Background: Gene discovery has provided remarkable biological insights into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). One challenge for clinical application of genetic testing is critical evaluation of the significance of reported variants.
Methods: We use whole exome sequencing (WES) to develop a clinically relevant approach to identify a subset of ALS patients harboring likely pathogenic mutations. In parallel, we assess if DNA methylation can be used to screen for pathogenicity of novel variants since a methylation signature has been shown to associate with the pathogenic C9orf72 expansion, but has not been explored for other ALS mutations. Australian patients identified with ALS-relevant variants were cross-checked with population databases and case reports to critically assess whether they were "likely causal," "uncertain significance," or "unlikely causal."
Results: Published ALS variants were identified in >10% of patients; however, in only 3% of patients (4/120) could these be confidently considered pathogenic (in SOD1 and TARDBP). We found no evidence for a differential DNA methylation signature in these mutation carriers.
Conclusions: The use of WES in a typical ALS clinic demonstrates a critical approach to variant assessment with the capability to combine cohorts to enhance the largely unknown genetic basis of ALS.
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- clinical genetics
- motor neuron disease
- next-generation sequencing
- whole exome sequencing