Autism-Related Memory and Seizures Improved through Gene Repair in Adult Animals

Scientists in the US have shown that correcting the protein deficiency caused by a genetic form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in adult mice can improve some of the characteristic symptoms, even though the treatment is carried out well past what has traditionally been thought of as the critical window of early brain development. The studies, carried out in a mouse model of human ASD caused by defects in the SYNGAP1 gene, found that restoring normal SynGAP protein levels in adult animals improved behavioral and electrophysiological measures of both memory and seizure. The authors suggest that future gene therapies for genetic causes of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) such as ASD, intellectual disability (ID), and epilepsy, may also be effective in adult patients.

“Our findings in mice suggest that neurodevelopmental disorders’ disease course can be altered in adult patients,” said research lead Gavin Rumbaugh, PhD, an associate professor in the department of neuroscience at Scripps Research in Florida. “We can correct brain dysfunction related to seizure as well as memory impairments after restoring SynGAP protein levels in the adult animals.”

Rumbaugh’s team, together with colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin, and the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute and department of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, report their results in eLife, in a paper titled, “Re-expression of SynGAP Protein in Adulthood Improves Translatable Measures of Brain Function and Behavior.”

Novel Variants and Phenotypes Widen the Phenotypic Spectrum of GABRG2-Related Disorders

PURPOSE: Next-generation sequencing (NGS) has made genetic testing of patients with epileptic encephalopathies easier – novel variants are discovered and new phenotypes described. Variants in the same gene – even the same variant – can cause different types of epilepsy and neurodevelopmental disorders. The aim of this study was to identify the genetic causes of epileptic encephalopathies in pediatric patients with complex phenotypes.

METHODS: NGS was carried out for three patients with epileptic encephalopathies. Detailed clinical features, brain magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalography were analysed. Researchers searched the Human Gene Mutation Database for the published GABRG2 variants with clinical description of patients and composed a summary of the variants and their phenotypic features.

RESULTS: Researchers identified two novel de novo GABRG2 variants, p.P282T and p.S306F, with new phenotypes including neuroradiological evidence of neurodegeneration and epilepsy of infancy with migrating focal seizures (EIMFS). One patient carried previously reported p.P83S variant with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) phenotype that has not yet been described related to GABRG2 disorders and a more severe epilepsy phenotype than reported earlier. In all, the literature search yielded twenty-two articles describing 27 different variants that were divided into two categories: those with self-limiting epilepsies and febrile seizures and those with more severe drug-resistant epileptic encephalopathies.

CONCLUSION: This study further expands the genotypic and phenotypic spectrum of epilepsies associated with GABRG2 variants. More knowledge is still needed about the influence of the environment, genetic background and other epilepsy susceptibility genes on the phenotype of the specific GABRG2 variants.

Epilepsy and Seizures in Young People with 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome: Prevalence and Links with Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Objective: The true prevalence of epileptic seizures and epilepsy in 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11.2DS) is unknown, because previous studies have relied on historical medical record review. Associations of epilepsy with other neurodevelopmental manifestations (eg, specific psychiatric diagnoses) remain unexplored.

Methods: The primary caregivers of 108 deletion carriers (mean age 13.6 years) and 60 control siblings (mean age 13.1 years) completed a validated epilepsy screening questionnaire. A subsample (n = 44) underwent a second assessment with interview, prolonged electroencephalography (EEG), and medical record and epileptologist review. Intelligence quotient (IQ), psychopathology, and other neurodevelopmental problems were examined using neurocognitive assessment and questionnaire/interview.

Results: Eleven percent (12/108) of deletion carriers had an epilepsy diagnosis (controls 0%, P = 0.004). 57 of the remaining 96 deletion carriers (59.4%) had seizures or seizure-like symptoms (controls 13.3%, 8/60, P < 0.001). A febrile seizure was reported for 24.1% (26/107) of cases (controls 0%, P < 0.001). One deletion carrier with a clinical history of epilepsy was diagnosed with an additional type of unprovoked seizure during the second assessment. One deletion carrier was newly diagnosed with epilepsy, and two more with possible nonmotor absence seizures. A positive screen on the epilepsy questionnaire was more likely in deletion carriers with lower performance IQ (odds ratio [OR] 0.96, P = 0.018), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (OR 3.28, P = 0.021), autism symptoms (OR 3.86, P = 0.004), and indicative motor coordination disorder (OR 4.56, P = 0.021).

Significance: Even when accounting for deletion carriers diagnosed with epilepsy, reports of seizures and seizure-like symptoms are common. These may be “true” epileptic seizures in some cases, which are not recognized during routine clinical care. Febrile seizures were far more common in deletion carriers compared to known population risk. A propensity for seizures in 22q11.2DS was associated with cognitive impairment, psychopathology, and motor coordination problems. Future research is required to determine whether this reflects common neurobiologic risk pathways or is a consequence of recurrent seizures.

HCN Ion Channel Function May Play a Major Role in Epilepsy: Genetic Analysis of a Large Cohort of Patients and Review of the Literature

Background: The Hyperpolarization-activated Cyclic Nucleotide-gated (HCN) channels are highly expressed in the Central Nervous Systems, where they are responsible for the Ih current. Together with specific accessory proteins, these channels finely regulate neuronal excitability and discharge activity. In the last few years, a substantial body of evidence has been gathered showing that modifications of Ih can play an important role in the pathogenesis of epilepsy. However, the extent to which HCN dysfunction is spread among the epileptic population is still unknown.

Aim: The aim of this work is to evaluate the impact of genetic mutations potentially affecting the HCN channels’ activity, using a NGS approach.

Method: Researchers screened a large cohort of patients with epilepsy of unknown etiology for mutations in HCN1, HCN2 and HCN4 and in genes coding for accessory proteins (MiRP1, Filamin A, Caveolin-3, TRIP8b, Tamalin, S-SCAM and Mint2).

Results: Researchers confirmed the presence of specific mutations of HCN genes affecting channel function and predisposing to the development of the disease. They also found several previously unreported additional genetic variants, whose contribution to the phenotype remains to be clarified. According to these results and data from literature, alteration of HCN1 channel function seems to play a major role in epilepsy, but also dysfunctional HCN2 and HCN4 channels can predispose to the development of the disease.

Significance: These findings suggest that inclusion of the genetic screening of HCN channels in diagnostic procedures of epileptic patients should be recommended. This would help pave the way for a better understanding of the role played by Ih dysfunction in the pathogenesis of epilepsy.

The Epilepsy Genetics Initiative: Systematic Reanalysis of Diagnostic Exomes Increases Yield

Featuring CURE’s Epilepsy Genetics Initiative

OBJECTIVE: The Epilepsy Genetics Initiative (EGI) was formed in 2014 to create a centrally managed database of clinically generated exome sequence data. EGI performs systematic research-based reanalysis to identify new molecular diagnoses that were not possible at the time of initial sequencing and to aid in novel gene discovery. Herein researchers report on the efficacy of this approach 3 years after inception.

METHODS: One hundred sixty-six individuals with epilepsy who underwent diagnostic whole exome sequencing (WES) were enrolled, including 139 who had not received a genetic diagnosis. Sequence data were transferred to the EGI and periodically reevaluated on a research basis.

RESULTS: Eight new diagnoses were made as a result of updated annotations or the discovery of novel epilepsy genes after the initial diagnostic analysis was performed. In five additional cases, the team provided new evidence to support or contradict the likelihood of variant pathogenicity reported by the laboratory. One novel epilepsy gene was discovered through dual interrogation of research and clinically generated WES.

SIGNIFICANCE: EGI’s diagnosis rate of 5.8% represents a considerable increase in diagnostic yield and demonstrates the value of periodic reinterrogation of whole exome data. The initiative’s contributions to gene discovery underscore the importance of data sharing and the value of collaborative enterprises.

CURE Discovery: Using Patient-Specific Cardiac Cells to Predict SUDEP Risk

CURE-funded researchers are using a novel technique to discover ways to predict patients at an increased risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). Dr. Lori Isom, her team, and co-investigator Dr. Jack Parent at the University of Michigan are transforming skin cells from patients with developmental and epileptic encephalopathy (DEE) syndromes into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The team then generates cardiac cells from the iPSCs which retain the patients’ exact genetic information. These unique, patient-specific cardiac cells are used as models to understand if DEE-associated genes play a role in causing heart abnormalities which may lead to SUDEP. The team also hopes to develop measurable indicators, known as biomarkers, of SUDEP risk.

Severe DEE syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome, are associated with a high incidence of SUDEP. It is estimated that up to 20% of patients with Dravet syndrome die from SUDEP.1 There is still much to be understood about the mechanisms of SUDEP and how to predict who is at risk for it.

Dravet syndrome and other DEEs are often associated with variants in genes, such as SCN1A, SCN1B, and SCN8A. These genes provide instructions to make sodium ion channels, which are very important proteins that help brain cells transmit electrical signals. The same genes are also expressed in the heart; thus, the team hypothesizes that any variants in these genes that disrupt electrical signaling in the brain would affect normal electrical function of the heart as well. In support of this hypothesis, the investigators’ previous work in mouse models of Dravet syndrome and DEEs showed that these mice exhibited irregular heartbeat, which in some cases preceded SUDEP-like events.2-4

In this CURE-funded project, the investigators expanded upon their previous work by testing their hypothesis in heart muscle cells called cardiac myocytes, generated in the laboratory from skin cells of patients with Dravet syndrome or other DEEs using iPSC technology. This Nobel Prize-winning technology involves obtaining skin or blood cells from patients and converting them to iPSCs. These are stem cells that can be converted into almost any specialized cell type in the body, such as heart, muscle, pancreatic, or neuronal cells. The cells are patient-specific, meaning they retain the unique genetic make-up of the patient they originated from, allowing investigators to study cell types which would otherwise be very difficult or impossible to obtain from a living patient.

Dr. Isom, Dr. Parent, and their colleagues previously used iPSC technology to generate heart muscle cells from four patients with variants in the SCN1A gene and found increased sodium currents and spontaneous contraction rates in these cells, suggesting cardiac electrical dysfunction.5 Cardiac abnormalities were subsequently found in the patient with the highest increase in sodium current.5 These data suggest that iPSC-cardiac cells may be useful models for identifying and developing biomarkers, such as increased sodium current, as indicators of SUDEP risk.

The investigators used the same technique to study variants in the SCN1B and SCN8A genes. The team observed that iPSC-cardiac myocytes derived from a patient with SCN1B Dravet syndrome had increased sodium currents similar to those seen in iPSC-cardiac myocytes from the patient with SCN1A Dravet syndrome, suggesting that variants in these two different genes could cause heart abnormalities through similar mechanisms. Preliminary data in iPSC-cardiac myocytes from patients with DEE caused by variants in SCN8A, suggest that these cells have altered beating rates but no change in sodium current, which is aligned with their observations in a mouse model with a variant in SCN8A.

Taken together, these results reveal mechanisms by which different epilepsy-related genes can affect heart function and SUDEP. Future research will investigate the impact of variants of a specific non-ion channel gene to see if it causes altered cardiac beating. Patient-specific iPSC cardiac myocytes are a very useful model to study SUDEP mechanisms and could be developed as diagnostic biomarkers to identify SUDEP risk in patients.

1 Cooper MS et al. Mortality in Dravet Syndrome. Epilepsy Res. 2016 Dec; 128:43-47.
2 Auerbach DS et al. Altered Cardiac Electrophysiology and SUDEP in a Model of Dravet Syndrome. PLoS One. 2013;8(10).
3 Lopez-Santiago LF et al. Sodium channel Scn1b null mice exhibit prolonged QT and RR intervals. J Mol Cell Cardiol. 2007;43(5):636-47.
4 Frasier CR et al. Cardiac arrhythmia in a mouse model of SCN8A Epileptic Encephalopathy. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016; in press.
5 Frasier CR et al. Channelopathy as a SUDEP Biomarker in Dravet Syndrome Patient Derived Cardiac Myocytes. Stem Cell Reports. 2018 Sep 11;11(3):626-634.

Schizophrenia is a Later-Onset Feature of PCDH19 Girls Clustering Epilepsy

Objective: To investigate the occurrence of psychosis and serious behavioral problems in females with protocadherin 19 gene (PCDH19) pathogenic variants.

Methods: This study evaluated whether psychosis and serious behavioral problems had occurred in 60 females (age 2-75 years) with PCDH19 pathogenic variants belonging to 35 families. Patients were identified from epilepsy genetics databases in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada. Neurologic and psychiatric disorders were diagnosed using standard methods.

Results: Eight of 60 females (13%) from 7 families developed a psychotic disorder: schizophrenia (6), schizoaffective disorder (1), or an unspecified psychotic disorder (1). Median age at onset of psychotic symptoms was 21 years (range 11-28 years). In our cohort of 39 females aged 11 years or older, 8 (21%) developed a psychotic disorder. Seven had ongoing seizures at onset of psychosis, with 2 continuing to have seizures when psychosis recurred. Psychotic disorders occurred in the setting of mild (4), moderate (2), or severe (1) intellectual disability, or normal intellect (1). Preexisting behavioral problems occurred in 4 patients, and autism spectrum disorder in 3. Two additional females (3%) had psychotic features with other conditions: an adolescent had recurrent episodes of postictal psychosis, and a 75-year-old woman had major depression with psychotic features. A further 3 adolescents (5%) with moderate to severe intellectual disability had onset of severe behavioral disturbance, or significant worsening.

Significance: Researchers identified that psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia, are a later-onset manifestation of PCDH19 Girls Clustering Epilepsy. Affected girls and women should be carefully monitored for later-onset psychiatric disorders.

Latest Genetic Sequencing Techniques Reveal New Disease Mutations Associated With Epilepsy and Dravet Syndrome

Next-generation sequencing techniques have revealed that genetic mutations in the KCND3 gene may be responsible for more types of epilepsy than previously thought, and new candidate genes associated with Dravet syndrome have been identified, a new study reports.

The study, “Gene mutational analysis in a cohort of Chinese children with unexplained epilepsy: identification of a new KCND3 phenotype and novel genes causing Dravet syndrome,” was published in the journal Seizure.

Dante Labs Unveils 1,000 Patient Epilepsy Whole Genome Study to Advance Research and Therapies for Patients With Epilepsy

Today, Dante Labs launched its Global Epilepsy Whole Genome Study, which will sequence 1,000 patients diagnosed with epilepsy over the next nine months, further advancing the research and development of gene therapies for epilepsy.

The study was first advocated by Epilepsy Awareness Day at Disneyland (EADDL), which will also lead the selection of epilepsy patients for this project.

“Brad and Candy Levy at the Epilepsy Awareness Day at Disneyland have done an amazing job supporting epilepsy patients and their families across the United States and the world,” said Dante Labs CEO Andrea Riposati. “We are excited to dedicate resources to the study of epilepsy.”

Pediatric Epilepsy Genomic Results Should Be Reinterpreted Regularly

In a new report reinterpreting clinical genomic epilepsy test results, about a third of patients had variants reclassified. This led to a clinically significant change in the interpretation in a third of that cohort.

Investigators from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center retrospectively reviewed 309 pediatric epilepsy screenings in order to examine the value of reinterpreting previously reported genomic test results. The patients underwent genomic epilepsy testing at a single tertiary care pediatric health care facility between July 2012 and August 2015. The investigators wondered how often genomic test result interpretations change, and so the reinterpretation took place in May 2017.

Genomic testing is used to judge several pediatric neurological diseases, the study authors said. While recent studies have focused on the discovery and identification of new disease relationships using the genomic data, only a few studies have looked into the scope of re-analysis to include all the gene variants of previously reported conditions.

Park said that physicians should consider asking laboratories to reinterpret previously reported genetic test results in a few scenarios, such as:

  • when a period of 13 years has elapsed from the initially reported results;
  • when they are considering making changes to a patient’s medication or other therapies;
  • when they are considering ordering further genetic testing.