The familial risk of epilepsy – revisited

Missing heritability. The concept of missing heritability is often invoked to demonstrate that existing genetic techniques only identify a fraction of the overall genetic risk for human diseases including the epilepsies. This statement implicitly assumes that we have a good and solid understanding of what the magnitude of genetic risk actually is. However, when looking at the epidemiological studies that have investigated familial risk of epilepsy, some of these studies have inherent problems, including small sample sizes, different phenotype definitions, recruitment bias, and lack of controls. A recent study in Brain now reassesses the familial risk of epilepsy in a population-based cohort of the Rochester Epidemiology Project. There are few instant classics in the field of epilepsy genetics – this study is one of them. Continue reading

FS and FS+ are two distinct diseases, as suggested by twins

GEFS+ reloaded. The genetics of Febrile Seizures (FS) is one big mystery. Even though large families have been reported and multiple linkage studies have been performed, no single susceptibility gene for Febrile Seizures is known. This is somehow surprising, given that FS is by far the most common epilepsy syndrome. In contrast to common FS, genetic research has been very successful in families with Genetic Epilepsy with Febrile Seizures Plus (GEFS+), where Febrile Seizures Plus (FS+) are the most striking feature in families.  Ever since the definition of the GEFS+ spectrum was established, the distinction from common FS has been a matter of debate. Now a twin study in Epilepsy Research suggests FS and FS+ might actually be two very distinct diseases with little genetic overlap. Continue reading

Spooky, scary, phantom heritability

Twilight zone. Admittedly, Halloween is already a few weeks behind us, but I was reminded of it a week ago when I stumbled across the concept of phantom heritability. And guess what, this concept has already been out there since early 2012 and, scarily enough, we didn’t notice it. So what is this mysterious conspiracy behind phantom heritability? Well, it’s about things out there beyond our understanding and the fact that we might already know more than we think we know. But be warned, if you decide to read this post, your understanding of genetic architecture might be changed forever. And there is no going back. Boo! Continue reading

Genome meets Connectome: gene networks and brain microstructure

Genetic imaging. There are two major fields in epilepsy research – functional imaging and genetics. Both fields live parallel lives and hardly ever interact. When they do, the interaction is usually short-lived and full of disappointments, as nothing has really ever worked. However, a grant application due today has led me to a recent publication in the Journal of Neuroscience, which combines imaging and GWAS. And believe it or not, the ion channels are back. Continue reading

Autism – the shared environment strikes back

Autism and environment. A much talked about recent twin study from California finds a significantly lower heritability in autism than previously estimated, reducing the heritability estimate from >80% to less than 40% and attributing much of the liability of autism to shared, probably prenatal environment. At first, this study may seem to add to the growing pessimism in the genetics field given the lack of explanatory findings from exome sequencing studies. However, things are not that simple and you don’t have to put your exome sequencers on Ebay yet. Also, don’t mention vaccinations again. Let me explain… Continue reading