Rare mutations and severe intellectual disability

Written by: Stephen Hsu

Primary Source: Information Processing

The paper below describes rare de novo mutations which cause severe intellectual disability. See also Structural genomic variants (CNVs) affect cognition.

By the principle of continuity, I suspect that rare variants of smaller negative effect on cognitive ability also exist. These alleles, although harder to detect, would account for part of the observed population variation in the normal range. As discussed in an earlier post (Common variants vs mutational load), these are likely responsible for additional heritability not included in the h2 ~ 0.5 due to common variants estimated from GCTA.

Genome sequencing identifies major causes of severe intellectual disability (Nature)

Severe intellectual disability (ID) occurs in 0.5% of newborns and is thought to be largely genetic in origin1, 2. The extensive genetic heterogeneity of this disorder requires a genome-wide detection of all types of genetic variation. Microarray studies and, more recently, exome sequencing have demonstrated the importance of de novo copy number variations (CNVs) and single-nucleotide variations (SNVs) in ID, but the majority of cases remain undiagnosed3, 4, 5, 6. Here we applied whole-genome sequencing to 50 patients with severe ID and their unaffected parents. All patients included had not received a molecular diagnosis after extensive genetic prescreening, including microarray-based CNV studies and exome sequencing. Notwithstanding this prescreening, 84 de novo SNVs affecting the coding region were identified, which showed a statistically significant enrichment of loss-of-function mutations as well as an enrichment for genes previously implicated in ID-related disorders. In addition, we identified eight de novo CNVs, including single-exon and intra-exonic deletions, as well as interchromosomal duplications. These CNVs affected known ID genes more frequently than expected. On the basis of diagnostic interpretation of all de novo variants, a conclusive genetic diagnosis was reached in 20 patients. Together with one compound heterozygous CNV causing disease in a recessive mode, this results in a diagnostic yield of 42% in this extensively studied cohort, and 62% as a cumulative estimate in an unselected cohort. These results suggest that de novo SNVs and CNVs affecting the coding region are a major cause of severe ID. Genome sequencing can be applied as a single genetic test to reliably identify and characterize the comprehensive spectrum of genetic variation, providing a genetic diagnosis in the majority of patients with severe ID.

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Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu is vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State University. He also serves as scientific adviser to BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) and as a member of its Cognitive Genomics Lab. Hsu’s primary work has been in applications of quantum field theory, particularly to problems in quantum chromodynamics, dark energy, black holes, entropy bounds, and particle physics beyond the standard model. He has also made contributions to genomics and bioinformatics, the theory of modern finance, and in encryption and information security. Founder of two Silicon Valley companies—SafeWeb, a pioneer in SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Networks) appliances, which was acquired by Symantec in 2003, and Robot Genius Inc., which developed anti-malware technologies—Hsu has given invited research seminars and colloquia at leading research universities and laboratories around the world.
Stephen Hsu

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