Feeds:
Posts

## Archive for the ‘Childhood cancer’ Category

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

A mutated gene called RAS gives rise to a signalling protein Ral which is involved in tumour growth in the bladder. Many researchers tried and failed to target and stop this wayward gene. Signalling proteins such as Ral usually shift between active and inactive states.

So, researchers next tried to stop Ral to get into active state. In inacvtive state Ral exposes a pocket which gets closed when active. After five years, the researchers found a small molecule dubbed BQU57 that can wedge itself into the pocket to prevent Ral from closing and becoming active. Now, BQU57 has been licensed for further development.

Researchers have a growing genetic data on bladder cancer, some of which threaten to overturn the supposed causes of bladder cancer. Genetics has also allowed bladder cancer to be reclassified from two categories into five distinct subtypes, each with different characteristics and weak spots. All these advances bode well for drug development and for improved diagnosis and prognosis.

Among the groups studying the genetics of bladder cancer are two large international teams: Uromol (named for urology and molecular biology), which is based at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, and The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), based at institutions in Texas and Boston. Each team tackled a different type of cancer, based on the traditional classification of whether or not a tumour has grown into the muscle wall of the bladder. Uromol worked on the more common, earlier form, non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer, whereas TCGA is looking at muscle-invasive bladder cancer, which has a lower survival rate.

The Uromol team sought to identify people whose non-invasive tumours might return after treatment, becoming invasive or even metastatic. Bladder cancer has a high risk of recurrence, so people whose non-invasive cancer has been treated need to be monitored for many years, undergoing cystoscopy every few months. They looked for predictive genetic footprints in the transcriptome of the cancer, which contains all of a cell’s RNA and can tell researchers which genes are turned on or off.

They found three subgroups with distinct basal and luminal features, as proposed by other groups, each with different clinical outcomes in early-stage bladder cancer. These features sort bladder cancer into genetic categories that can help predict whether the cancer will return. The researchers also identified mutations that are linked to tumour progression. Mutations in the so-called APOBEC genes, which code for enzymes that modify RNA or DNA molecules. This effect could lead to cancer and cause it to be aggressive.

The second major research group, TCGA, led by the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute, that involves thousands of researchers across USA. The project has already mapped genomic changes in 33 cancer types, including breast, skin and lung cancers. The TCGA researchers, who study muscle-invasive bladder cancer, have looked at tumours that were already identified as fast-growing and invasive.

The work by Uromol, TCGA and other labs has provided a clearer view of the genetic landscape of early- and late-stage bladder cancer. There are five subtypes for the muscle-invasive form: luminal, luminal–papillary, luminal–infiltrated, basal–squamous, and neuronal, each of which is genetically distinct and might require different therapeutic approaches.

Bladder cancer has the third-highest mutation rate of any cancer, behind only lung cancer and melanoma. The TCGA team has confirmed Uromol research showing that most bladder-cancer mutations occur in the APOBEC genes. It is not yet clear why APOBEC mutations are so common in bladder cancer, but studies of the mutations have yielded one startling implication. The APOBEC enzyme causes mutations early during the development of bladder cancer, and independent of cigarette smoke or other known exposures.

The TCGA researchers found a subset of bladder-cancer patients, those with the greatest number of APOBEC mutations, had an extremely high five-year survival rate of about 75%. Other patients with fewer APOBEC mutations fared less well which is pretty surprising.

This detailed knowledge of bladder-cancer genetics may help to pinpoint the specific vulnerabilities of cancer cells in different people. Over the past decade, Broad Institute researchers have identified more than 760 genes that cancer needs to grow and survive. Their genetic map might take another ten years to finish, but it will list every genetic vulnerability that can be exploited. The goal of cancer precision medicine is to take the patient’s tumour and decode the genetics, so the clinician can make a decision based on that information.

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29117162

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27321955

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28583312

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24476821

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28988769

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28753430

## University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), Switzerland – A Prominent Center of Pediatric Research and Medicine

### University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), Switzerland – A Prominent Center of Pediatric Research and Medicine

Author: Gail S. Thornton, M.A.

Co-Editor: The VOICES of Patients, Hospital CEOs, HealthCare Providers, Caregivers and Families: Personal Experience with Critical Care and Invasive Medical Procedures

University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich —  http://www.kispi.uzh.ch), in Switzerland, is the largest specialized, child and adolescent hospital in the country and one of the leading research centers for pediatric and youth medicine in Europe. The hospital, which has about 220 beds, numerous outpatient clinics, a day clinic, an interdisciplinary emergency room, and a specialized rehabilitation center, is a non-profit private institution that offers a comprehensive range of more than 40 medical sub-specializations, including heart conditions, bone marrow transplantation and burns. There are approximately 2,200 physicians, nurses, and other allied health care and administrative personnel employed at the hospital.

Just as important, the hospital houses the Children’s Research Center (CRC), the first research center in Switzerland that is solely dedicated to pediatric research, and is on par with the largest children’s clinics in the world. The research center provides a strong link between research and clinical experience to ensure that the latest scientific findings are made available to patients and implemented in life-saving therapies. By developing highly precise early diagnoses, innovative therapeutic approaches and effective new drugs, the researchers aim to provide a breakthrough in prevention, treatment and cure of common and, especially, rare diseases in children.

Several significant milestones have been reached over the past year. One important project under way is approval by the hospital management board and Zurich city council to construct a new building, projected to be completed in 2021. The new Children’s Hospital will constitute two main buildings; one building will house the hospital with around 200 beds, and the other building will house university research and teaching facilities.

In the ongoing quest for growing demands for quality, safety and efficiency that better serve patients and their families, the hospital management established a new role of Chief Operating Officer. This new position is responsible for the daily operation of the hospital, focusing on safety and clinical results, building a service culture and producing strong financial results. Greater emphasis on clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction and partnering with physicians, nurses, and other medical and administrative staff is all part of developing a thriving and lasting hospital culture.

Recently, the hospital’s Neurodermatitis Unit in cooperation with Christine Kuehne – Center for Allergy Research and Education (CK-Care), one of Europe’s largest private initiatives in the field of allergology, has won the “Interprofessionality Award” from the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences.  This award highlights best practices among doctors, nurses and medical staff in organizations who work together to diagnose and treat the health and well-being of patients, especially children with atopic dermatitis and their families.

At the northern end of Lake Zurich and between the mountain summit of the Uetliberg and Zurichberg, Children’s Hospital is located in the center of the residential district of Hottingen.

Image SOURCE: Photograph courtesy of Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), Switzerland. Interior and exterior photographs of the hospital.

Below is my interview with Hospital Director and Chief Executive Officer Markus Malagoli, Ph.D., which occurred in December, 2016.

How do you keep the spirit of innovation alive?

Dr. Malagoli: Innovation in an organization, such as the University Children’s Hospital, correlates to a large extent on the power to attract the best and most innovative medical team and administrative people. It is our hope that by providing our employees with the time and financial resources to undertake needed research projects, they will be opened to further academic perspectives. At first sight, this may seem to be an expensive opportunity. However, in the long run, we have significant research under way in key areas which benefits children ultimately. It also gives our hospital the competitive edge in providing quality care and helps us recruit the best physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers and administrative staff.

The Children’s Hospital Zurich is nationally and internationally positioned as highly specialized in the following areas:

• Cardiology and cardiac surgery: pediatric cardiac center,
• Neonatal and malformation surgery as well as fetal surgery,
• Neurology and neurosurgery as well as neurorehabilitation,
• Oncology, hematology and immunology as well as oncology and stem cell transplants,
• Metabolic disorders and endocrinology as well as newborn screening, and
• Combustion surgery and plastic reconstructive surgery.

We provide patients with our special medical expertise, as well as an expanded  knowledge and new insights into the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prophylaxis of diseases, accidents or deformities. We have more than 40 medical disciplines that cover the entire spectrum of pediatrics as well as child and youth surgery.

As an example, for many years, we have treated all congenital and acquired heart disease in children. Since 2004, specialized heart surgery and post-operative care in our cardiac intensive care unit have been carried out exclusively in our child-friendly hospital. A separate heart operation area was set up for this purpose. The children’s heart center also has a modern cardiac catheter laboratory for children and adolescents with all diagnostic and catheter-interventional therapeutic options. Heart-specific non-invasive diagnostic possibilities using MRI are available as well as a large cardiology clinic with approximately 4,500 outpatient consultations per year. In April 2013, a special ward only for cardiac patients was opened and our nursing staff is highly specialized in the care of children with heart problems.

In addition to the advanced medical diagnostics and treatment of children, we also believe in the importance of caring and supporting families of sick children with a focus on their psychosocial well-being. For this purpose, a team of specialized nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers are available. Occasionally, the children and their families need rehabilitation and we work with a team of specialists to plan and organize the best in-house or out-patient rehabilitation for the children and their families.

We also provide therapeutic, rehabilitation and social services that encompass nutritional advice, art and expression therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, psychomotor therapy, a helpline for rare diseases, pastoral care, social counseling, and even hospital clowns. Our hospital teams work together to provide our patients with the best care so they are on the road to recovery in the fastest possible way.

What draws patients to Children’s Hospital?

Dr. Malagoli: Our hospital depends heavily on complex, interdisciplinary cases. For many diagnosis and treatments, our hospital is the last resort for children and adolescents in Switzerland and even across other countries. Our team is fully committed to the welfare of the patients they treat in order to deal with complex medical cases, such as diseases and disorders of the musculo-skeletal system and connective tissue, nervous system, respiratory system, digestive system, and ear, nose and throat, for example.

Most of our patients come from Switzerland and other cantons within the country, yet other patients come from as far away as Russia and the Middle East. Our hospital sees about 80,000 patients each year in the outpatient clinic for conditions, such as allergic pulmonary diseases, endocrinology and diabetology, hepatology, and gastroenterology; about 7,000 patients a year are seen for surgery; and about 37,000 patients a year are treated in the emergency ward.

We believe that parents are not visitors; they belong to the sick child’s healing, growth, and development. This guiding principle is a challenge for us, because we care not only for sick children, but also for their families, who may need personal or financial resources. Many of our services for parents, for example, are not paid by the Swiss health insurance and we depend strongly on funds from private institutions. We want to convey the feeling of security to children and adolescents of all ages and we involve the family in the recovery process.

What are the hospital’s strengths?

Dr. Malagoli: A special strength of our hospital is the interdisciplinary thinking of our teams. In addition to the interdisciplinary emergency and intensive care units, there are several internal institutionalized meetings, such as the uro-nephro-radiological conference on Mondays, the oncological conference and the gastroenterological meeting on Tuesdays,  and the pneumological case discussion on Wednesdays, where complex cases are discussed among our doctors. Foreign doctors are welcome to these meetings, and cases are also discussed at the appropriate external medical conferences.

Can you discuss some of the research projects under way at the Children’s Research Center (CRC)?

Dr. Malagoli: Our Children’s Research Center, the first research center in Switzerland focused on pediatric research, works closely with our hospital team. From basic research to clinical application, the hospital’s tasks in research and teaching is at the core of the Children’s Research Center for many young and established researchers and, ultimately, also for patients.

Our research projects focus on:

• Behavior of the nervous, metabolic, cardiovascular and immune system in all stages of growth and development of the child’s condition,
• Etiology (causes of disease) and treatment of genetic diseases,
• Tissue engineering of the skin and skin care research: from a few cells of a child,  complex two-layered skin is produced in the laboratory for life-saving measures after severe burns and treatment of congenital anomalies of the skin,
• Potential treatment approaches of the most severe infectious diseases, and
• Cancer diseases of children and adolescents.

You are making great strides in diagnostic work in the areas of Hematology, Immumology, Infectiology and Oncology. Would you elaborate on this particular work that is taking place at the hospital?

Dr. Malagoli: The Department of Image Diagnostics handles radiological and ultrasonographic examinations, and the numerous specialist labs offer a complete  range of laboratory diagnostics.

The laboratory center makes an important contribution to the clarification and treatment of disorders of immune defense, blood and cancer, as well as infections of all kinds and severity. Our highly specialized laboratories offer a large number of analyzes which are necessary in the assessment of normal and pathological cell functions and take into account the specifics and requirements of growth and development in children and infants.

The lab center also participates in various clinical trials and research projects. This allows on-going validation and finally introducing the latest test methods.

The laboratory has been certified as ISO 9001 by the Swiss Government since 2002 and has met the quality management system requirements on meeting patient expectations and delivering customer satisfaction. The interdisciplinary cooperation and careful communication of the laboratory results are at the center of our activities. Within the scope of our quality assurance measures, we conduct internal quality controls on a regular basis and participate in external tests. Among other things, the work of the laboratory center is supervised by the cantonal medicine committee and Swissmedic organization.

Additionally, the Metabolism Laboratory  offers a wide variety of biochemical and molecular diagnostic analysis, including those for the following areas:

• Disorders in glycogen and fructose metabolism,
• Lysosomal disorders,
• Disorders of biotin and vitamin B12 metabolism,
• Urea cycle disorders and Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD),
• Congenital disorders of protein glycosylation, and
• Hereditary disorders of connective tissue, such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Marfan Syndrome.

Screening for newborn conditions is equally important. The Newborn Screening Laboratory examines all newborn children in Switzerland for congenital metabolic and hormonal diseases. Untreated, the diseases detected in the screening lead in most cases to serious damage to different organs, but especially to the development of the brain. Thanks to the newborn screening, the metabolic and hormonal diseases that are being sought can be investigated by means of modern methods shortly after birth. For this, only a few drops of blood are necessary, which are taken from the heel on the third or fourth day after birth. On a filter paper strip, these blood drops are sent to the laboratory of the Children’s Hospital Zurich, where they are examined for the following diseases:

• Phenylketonuria (PKU),
• Hypothyroidism,
• Galactosemia,
• Biotinide deficiency,
• Cystic Fibrosis (CF),
• Glutaraziduria Type 1 (GA-1), and
• Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD).

Ongoing physician medical education and executive training is important for the overall well-being of the hospital. Would you describe the program and the courses?

Dr. Malagoli:  We place a high priority on medical education and training with a focus on children, youth, and their families. The various departments of the hospital offer regular specialist training courses for interested physicians at regular intervals. Training is available in the following areas:

• Anesthesiology,
• Surgery,
• Developmental Pediatrics,
• Cardiology,
• Clinical Chemistry and Biochemistry,
• Neuropediatrics,
• Oncology,
• Pediatrics, and
• Rehabilitation.

As a training hospital, we have built an extensive network or relationships with physicians in Switzerland as well as other parts of the world, who take part in our ongoing medical education opportunities that focus on specialized pediatrics and  pediatric surgery. Also, newly trained, young physicians who are in private practice or affiliated with other children’s hospitals often take part in our courses.

We also offer our hospital management and leaders from other organizations professional development in the areas of leadership or specialized competence training. We believe that all executives in leadership or management roles contribute significantly to our success and to a positive working climate. That is why we have developed crucial training in specific, work-related courses, including planning and communications skills, professional competence, and entrepreneurial development.

How is Children’s Hospital transforming health care?

Dr. Malagoli: The close cooperation between doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers is a key success factor in transforming health care. We strive for comprehensive child care that does not only focus on somatic issues but also on psychological support for patients and their families and social re-integration. However, it becomes more and more difficult to finance all the necessary support services.

Many supportive services, for example, for parents and families of sick children are not paid by health insurance in Switzerland and we do not receive financial support from the Swiss Government. Since 2012, we have the Swiss Diagnosis Related Groups (DRG) guidelines, a new tariff system for inpatient hospital services, that regulates costs for treatment in hospitals all over the country and those costs do not consider the amount of extra services we provide for parents and families as a children’s hospital. Those DRG principles mostly are for hospitals who treat adult patients.

Since you stepped into your role as CEO, how have you changed the way that you deliver health care?

Dr. Malagoli: I have definitely not reinvented health care! Giving my staff the space for individual development and the chance to realize their ideas is probably my main contribution to our success. Working with children is for many people motivating and enriching. We benefit from that, too. Moreover, we have managed to build up a culture of confidence and mutual respect – we call it the “Kispi-spirit”. “Kispi” as abbreviation of “Kinderspital.” Please visit our special recruiting site, which is www.kispi-spirit.ch.

I can think of a few examples where our doctors and medical teams have made a difference in the lives of our patients. Two of our physicians – PD (Privatdozent, a private university teacher) Dr. med. Alexander Moller and Dr. med. Florian Singer, Ph.D. – are involved in the development of new pulmonary functions tests which allow us to diagnose chronic lung diseases at an early stage in young children.

• Often times, newly born babies have a lung disease but do not show any specific symptoms, such as coughing. One of these new tests measures lung function based on inhaling and exhaling pure oxygen, rather than using the standard spirometry test used in children and adults to assess how well an infant’s lungs work by measuring how much air they inhale, how much they exhale and how quickly they exhale. The new test is currently part of a clinical routine in children with cystic fibrosis as well as in clinical trials in Europe. The test is so successful that the European Respiratory Society presented Dr. med. Singer, Ph.D., with the ‘Pediatric Research Award’ in 2015.
• Another significant research question among the pediatric pulmonary disease community is how asthma can be diagnosed reliably and at an earlier stage. PD Dr. med. Moller, chief physician of Pneumology at the hospital, has high hopes in a new way to measure exhaled air via mass spectrometry. If it succeeds, it will be able to evaluate changes in the lungs of asthmatics or help with more specific diagnoses of pneumonia.

In what ways have you built greater transparency, accountability and quality improvement for the benefit of patients?

Dr. Malagoli: Apart from the quality measures which are prescribed by Swiss law, we have decided not to strive for quality certifications and accreditations. We focus on outcome quality, record our results in quality registers and compare our outcome internationally with the best in class.

Our team of approximately 2,200 specialized physicians largely comes from Switzerland, although we have attracted a number of doctors from countries such as Germany, Portugal, Italy, Austria, and even Serbia, Turkey, Macedonia, Slovakia, and Croatia.

We recently conducted an employee satisfaction survey, which showed about 88 percent of employees were very satisfied or satisfied with their working conditions at the hospital and the job we are doing with patients and their families. This ranking is particularly gratifying for us as a service provider for the children and families we serve.

How does your volunteer program help families better deal with hospitalized children?

Dr. Malagoli: We have an enormous commitment from volunteers to care for hospitalized children and we are grateful to them. We offer our patients and their families child care, dog therapy, and even parenting by the Aladdin Foundation, a volunteer visiting service for hospitalized children to relieve parents and relatives and help young patients stay in hospital to recover quickly. The volunteers visit the child in the absence of the parents and are fully briefed on the child’s condition and care plan. The handling of care request usually takes no more than 24 hours and is free of charge. The assignments range from one-off visits to daily care for several weeks.

Image SOURCE: Photograph of Hospital Director and Chief Executive Officer Markus Malagoli, Ph.D., courtesy of Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), Switzerland.

Markus Malagoli, Ph.D.
Director and Chief Executive Officer

Markus Malagoli, Ph.D., has been Hospital Director and Chief Executive Officer of the University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich), since 2007.

Prior to his current role, Dr. Malagoli served as Chairman of Hospital Management and Head of Geriatrics of the Schaffhausen-Akutspital, the only public hospital in the Canton of Schaffhausen, from 2003 through 2007, where he was responsible for 10 departments, including surgery, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, rheumatology/rehabilitation, throat and nose, eyes, radiology, anesthesia, hospital pharmacy and administration. The hospital employs approximately 1,000 physicians, nursing staff, other medical personal, as well as administration and operational services employees. On average, around 9,000 individuals are treated in the hospital yearly. Previously, he was Administrative Director at the Hospital from 1996 through 2003.

Dr. Malagoli began his career at Ciba-Geigy in 1985, spending 11 years in the company. He worked in Business Accounting in Basel, and a few years later, became Head of the Production Information System department in Basel. He then was transferred to Ciba-Geigy in South Africa as Controller/Treasurer and returned to Basel as Project Manager for the SAP Migration Project in Accounting.

Dr. Malagoli received his B.A. degree in Finance and Accounting and a Ph.D. in Business Administration at the University of St. Gallen.

He is a member of the Supervisory Board of Schaffhausen-Akutspital and President of the Ungarbühl in Schaffhausen, a dormitory for individuals with developmental impairments.

Editor’s note:

We would like to thank Manuela Frey, communications manager, University Children’s Hospital Zurich, for the help and support she provided during this interview.

REFERENCE/SOURCE

University Children’s Hospital Zurich (Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich —  http://www.kispi.uzh.ch)

Other related articles

### Other related articles were published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal include the following:

2016

Healthcare conglomeration to access Big Data and lower costs

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2016/01/13/healthcare-conglomeration-to-access-big-data-and-lower-costs/

A New Standard in Health Care – Farrer Park Hospital, Singapore’s First Fully Integrated Healthcare/Hospitality Complex

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2016/06/22/a-new-standard-in-health-care-farrer-park-hospital-singapores-first-fully-integrated-healthcarehospitality-complex/

A Rich Tradition of Patient-Focused Care — Richmond University Medical Center, New York’s Leader in Health Care and Medical Education

2013

Risk Factor for Health Systems: High Turnover of Hospital CEOs and Visionary’s Role of Hospitals In 10 Years

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/08/08/risk-factor-for-health-systems-high-turnover-of-hospital-ceos-and-visionarys-role-of-hospitals-in-10-years/

Nation’s Biobanks: Academic institutions, Research institutes and Hospitals – vary by Collections Size, Types of Specimens and Applications: Regulations are Needed

### Cancer Companion Diagnostics

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

Companion Diagnostics for Cancer: Will NGS Play a Role?

Patricia Fitzpatrick Dimond, Ph.D.

http://www.genengnews.com/insight-and-intelligence/companion-diagnostics-for-cancer/77900554/

Companion diagnostics (CDx), in vitro diagnostic devices or imaging tools that provide information essential to the safe and effective use of a corresponding therapeutic product, have become indispensable tools for oncologists.  As a result, analysts expect the global CDx market to reach $8.73 billion by 2019, up from from$3.14 billion in 2014.

Use of CDx during a clinical trial to guide therapy can improve treatment responses and patient outcomes by identifying and predicting patient subpopulations most likely to respond to a given treatment.

These tests not only indicate the presence of a molecular target, but can also reveal the off-target effects of a therapeutic, predicting toxicities and adverse effects associated with a drug.

For pharma manufacturers, using CDx during drug development improves the success rate of drugs being tested in clinical trials. In a study estimating the risk of clinical trial failure during non-small cell lung cancer drug development in the period between 1998 and 2012 investigators analyzed trial data from 676 clinical trials with 199 unique drug compounds.

The data showed that Phase III trial failure proved the biggest obstacle to drug approval, with an overall success rate of only 28%. But in biomarker-guided trials, the success rate reached 62%. The investigators concluded from their data analysis that the use of a CDx assay during Phase III drug development substantially improves a drug’s chances of clinical success.

The Regulatory Perspective

According to Patricia Keegen, M.D., supervisory medical officer in the FDA’s Division of Oncology Products II, the agency requires a companion diagnostic test if a new drug works on a specific genetic or biological target that is present in some, but not all, patients with a certain cancer or disease. The test identifies individuals who would benefit from the treatment, and may identify patients who would not benefit but could also be harmed by use of a certain drug for treatment of their disease. The agency classifies companion diagnosis as Class III devices, a class of devices requiring the most stringent approval for medical devices by the FDA, a Premarket Approval Application (PMA).

On August 6, 2014, the FDA finalized its long-awaited “Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: In Vitro Companion Diagnostic Devices,” originally issued in July 2011. The final guidance stipulates that FDA generally will not approve any therapeutic product that requires an IVD companion diagnostic device for its safe and effective use before the IVD companion diagnostic device is approved or cleared for that indication.

Close collaboration between drug developers and diagnostics companies has been a key driver in recent simultaneous pharmaceutical-CDx FDA approvals, and partnerships between in vitro diagnostics (IVD) companies have proliferated as a result.  Major test developers include Roche Diagnostics, Abbott Laboratories, Agilent Technologies, QIAGEN), Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Myriad Genetics.

But an NGS-based test has yet to make it to market as a CDx for cancer.  All approved tests include PCR–based tests, immunohistochemistry, and in situ hybridization technology.  And despite the very recent decision by the FDA to grant marketing authorization for Illumina’s MiSeqDx instrument platform for screening and diagnosis of cystic fibrosis, “There still seems to be a number of challenges that must be overcome before we see NGS for targeted cancer drugs,” commented Jan Trøst Jørgensen, a consultant to DAKO, commenting on presentations at the European Symposium of Biopathology in June 2013.

Illumina received premarket clearance from the FDA for its MiSeqDx system, two cystic fibrosis assays, and a library prep kit that enables laboratories to develop their own diagnostic test. The designation marked the first time a next-generation sequencing system received FDA premarket clearance. The FDA reviewed the Illumina MiSeqDx instrument platform through its de novo classification process, a regulatory pathway for some novel low-to-moderate risk medical devices that are not substantially equivalent to an already legally marketed device.

Dr. Jørgensen further noted that “We are slowly moving away from the ‘one biomarker: one drug’ scenario, which has characterized the first decades of targeted cancer drug development, toward a more integrated approach with multiple biomarkers and drugs. This ‘new paradigm’ will likely pave the way for the introduction of multiplexing strategies in the clinic using gene expression arrays and next-generation sequencing.”

The future of CDxs therefore may be heading in the same direction as cancer therapy, aimed at staying ahead of the tumor drug resistance curve, and acknowledging the reality of the shifting genomic landscape of individual tumors. In some cases, NGS will be applied to diseases for which a non-sequencing CDx has already been approved.

Illumina believes that NGS presents an ideal solution to transforming the tumor profiling paradigm from a series of single gene tests to a multi-analyte approach to delivering precision oncology. Mya Thomae, Illumina’s vice president, regulatory affairs, said in a statement that Illumina has formed partnerships with several drug companies to develop a universal next-generation sequencing-based oncology test system. The collaborations with AstraZeneca, Janssen, Sanofi, and Merck-Serono, announced in 2014 and 2015 respectively, seek to  “redefine companion diagnostics for oncology  focused on developing a system for use in targeted therapy clinical trials with a goal of developing and commercializing a multigene panel for therapeutic selection.”

On January 16, 2014 Illumina and Amgen announced that they would collaborate on the development of a next-generation sequencing-based companion diagnostic for colorectal cancer antibody Vectibix (panitumumab). Illumina will develop the companion test on its MiSeqDx instrument.

In 2012, the agency approved Qiagen’s Therascreen KRAS RGQ PCR Kit to identify best responders to Erbitux (cetuximab), another antibody drug in the same class as Vectibix. The label for Vectibix, an EGFR-inhibiting monoclonal antibody, restricts the use of the drug for those metastatic colorectal cancer patients who harbor KRAS mutations or whose KRAS status is unknown.

The U.S. FDA, Illumina said, hasn’t yet approved a companion diagnostic that gauges KRAS mutation status specifically in those considering treatment with Vectibix.  Illumina plans to gain regulatory approval in the U.S. and in Europe for an NGS-based companion test that can identify patients’ RAS mutation status. Illumina and Amgen will validate the test platform and Illumina will commercialize the test.

Treatment Options

Foundation Medicine says its approach to cancer genomic characterization will help physicians reveal the alterations driving the growth of a patient’s cancer and identify targeted treatment options that may not have been otherwise considered.

FoundationOne, the first clinical product from Foundation Medicine, interrogates the entire coding sequence of 315 cancer-related genes plus select introns from 28 genes often rearranged or altered in solid tumor cancers.  Based on current scientific and clinical literature, these genes are known to be somatically altered in solid cancers.

These genes, the company says, are sequenced at great depth to identify the relevant, actionable somatic alterations, including single base pair change, insertions, deletions, copy number alterations, and selected fusions. The resultant fully informative genomic profile complements traditional cancer treatment decision tools and often expands treatment options by matching each patient with targeted therapies and clinical trials relevant to the molecular changes in their tumors.

As Foundation Medicine’ s NGS analyses are increasingly applied, recent clinical reports describe instances in which comprehensive genomic profiling with the FoundationOne NGS-based assay result in diagnostic reclassification that can lead to targeted drug therapy with a resulting dramatic clinical response. In several reported instances, NGS found, among the spectrum of aberrations that occur in tumors, changes unlikely to have been discovered by other means, and clearly outside the range of a conventional CDx that matches one drug to a specific genetic change.

TRK Fusion Cancer

In July 2015, the University of Colorado Cancer Center and Loxo Oncology published a research brief in the online edition of Cancer Discovery describing the first patient with a tropomyosin receptor kinase (TRK) fusion cancer enrolled in a LOXO-101 Phase I trial. LOXO-101 is an orally administered inhibitor of the TRK kinase and is highly selective only for the TRK family of receptors.

While the authors say TRK fusions occur rarely, they occur in a diverse spectrum of tumor histologies. The research brief described a patient with advanced soft tissue sarcoma widely metastatic to the lungs. The patient’s physician submitted a tumor specimen to Foundation Medicine for comprehensive genomic profiling with FoundationOne Heme, where her cancer was demonstrated to harbor a TRK gene fusion.

Following multiple unsuccessful courses of treatment, the patient was enrolled in the Phase I trial of LOXO-101 in March 2015. After four months of treatment, CT scans demonstrated almost complete tumor disappearance of the largest tumors.

The FDA’s Elizabeth Mansfield, Ph.D., director, personalized medicine staff, Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health, said in a recent article,  “FDA Perspective on Companion Diagnostics: An Evolving Paradigm” that “even as it seems that many questions about co-development have been resolved, the rapid accumulation of new knowledge about tumor biology and the rapid evolution of diagnostic technology are challenging FDA to continually redefine its thinking on companion diagnostics.” It seems almost inevitable that a consolidation of diagnostic testing should take place, to enable a single test or a few tests to garner all the necessary information for therapeutic decision making.”

Whether this means CDx testing will begin to incorporate NGS sequencing remains to be seen.

Human Genetics and Childhood Diseases

Larry H. Bernstein, Md, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

Publication Roundup: HGMD

HGMD®, the Human Gene Mutation Database is used by scientists around the world to find information on reported genetic mutations. The papers below use the database to advance our understanding of disease, DNA dynamics, and more.

https://www.qiagenbioinformatics.com/blog/translational/publication-roundup-hgmd

Local DNA dynamics shape mutational patterns of mononucleotide repeats in human genomes
First author: Albino Bacolla

Scientists in the US and UK published results in Nucleic Acids Research of a detailed analysis of single-base substitutions and indels in the human genome. Their findings show that certain base positions are more susceptible to mutagenesis than others. They used HGMD Professional to find mutations in specific genomic regions for analysis; the paper includes charts showing mutation patterns, germline SNPs, and more from HGMD data.

High prevalence of CDH23 mutations in patients with congenital high-frequency sporadic or recessively inherited hearing loss
First author: Kunio Mizutari

This Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases paper from scientists in Japan sequenced 72 patients with unexplained hearing loss, finding several CDH23 mutations, some of which were novel. Mutations in the gene have been linked to Usher syndrome and other forms of hereditary hearing loss. The scientists used HGMD to find all known CDH23 mutations within nearly 70 coding regions.

Mutation analyses and prenatal diagnosis in families of X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency caused by IL2Rγ gene novel mutation
First author: Q.L. Bai

In Genetics and Molecular Research, scientists report the utility of mutation analysis of the interleukin-2 receptor gamma gene to assess carrier status and perform prenatal diagnosis for X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency. They studied two high-risk families, along with 100 controls, to evaluate the approach. Sequence variation was determined using HGMD Professional and an X-SCID database, and a new mutation was discovered in the project.

Impact of glucocerebrosidase mutations on motor and nonmotor complications in Parkinson’s disease
First author: Tomoko Oeda

Researchers from three hospitals in Japan published this Neurobiology of Aging report that may help stratify Parkinson’s disease patients by prognosis. They sequenced mutations in the GBA gene in 215 patients, finding that those who had mutations associated with Gaucher disease suffered dementia and psychosis much earlier than those who didn’t. The team found previously reported GBA mutations using HGMD Professional.

Comprehensive Genetic Characterization of a Spanish Brugada Syndrome Cohort
First author: Elisabet Selga

In this PLoS One publication, scientists from a number of institutions in Spain examined genetic variation among patients with Brugada syndrome, a rare genetic cardiac arrhythmia. They sequenced 14 genes in 55 patients, identifying 61 variants and finding the subset that appear pathogenic. Variants were filtered against a number of databases, including HGMD.

Local DNA dynamics shape mutational patterns of mononucleotide repeats in human genomes

Nucl. Acids Res. (26 May 2015) 43(10): 5065-5080.   http://dx.doi.org:/10.1093/nar/gkv364

Single base substitutions (SBSs) and insertions/deletions are critical for generating population diversity and can lead both to inherited disease and cancer. Whereas on a genome-wide scale SBSs are influenced by cellular factors, on a fine scale SBSs are influenced by the local DNA sequence-context, although the role of flanking sequence is often unclear. Herein, we used bioinformatics, molecular dynamics and hybrid quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics to analyze sequence context-dependent mutagenesis at mononucleotide repeats (A-tracts and G-tracts) in human population variation and in cancer genomes. SBSs and insertions/deletions occur predominantly at the first and last base-pairs of A-tracts, whereas they are concentrated at the second and third base-pairs in G-tracts. These positions correspond to the most flexible sites along A-tracts, and to sites where a ‘hole’, generated by the loss of an electron through oxidation, is most likely to be localized in G-tracts. For A-tracts, most SBSs occur in the direction of the base-pair flanking the tracts. We conclude that intrinsic features of local DNA structure, i.e. base-pair flexibility and charge transfer, render specific nucleotides along mononucleotide runs susceptible to base modification, which then yields mutations. Thus, local DNA dynamics contributes to phenotypic variation and disease in the human population.

INTRODUCTION

Changes in human genomic DNA in the form of base substitutions and insertions/deletions (indels) are essential to ensure population diversity, adaptation to the environment, defense from pathogens and self-recognition; they are also a critical source of human inherited disease and cancer. On a genome-wide scale, base substitutions result from the combined action of several factors, including replication fidelity, lagging versus leading strand DNA synthesis, repair, recombination, replication timing, transcription, nucleosome occupancy, etc., both in the germline and in cancer (14). On a much finer scale [(over a few base pairs (bp)], rates of base substitutions may be strongly influenced by interrelationships between base–protein and base–base interactions. For example, the mutator role of activation-induced deaminase (AID) in B-cells during class-switch recombination and somatic hypermutation (5) targets preferentially cytosines within WRC (W: A|T; R: A|G) sequences (6), whereas apolipoprotein B mRNA editing enzyme, catalytic polypeptide-like (APOBEC) overexpression displays a preference for base substitutions at cytosines in TCW contexts (7). Other examples, such as the induction of C→T transitions at CG:CG dinucleotides by cytosine-5-methylation and the role of UV light in promoting base substitutions at pyrimidine dimers have been well documented (reviewed in (4,8)). More recently, complex patterns of base substitution at guanosines in cancer genomes have been found to correlate with changes in guanosine ionization potentials as a result of electronic interactions with flanking bases (9), suggesting a role for electron transfer and oxidation reactions in sequence-dependent mutagenesis. However, despite these advances, the increasing number of sequence-dependent patterns of mutation noted in genome-wide sequencing studies has met with a lack of understanding of most of the underlying mechanisms (10). Thus, a picture is emerging in which mutations are often heavily dependent on sequence-context, but for which our comprehension is limited.

Mononucleotide repeats comprise blocks of identical base pairs (A|T or C|G; hereafter referred to as A-tracts and G-tracts) and display distinct features: they are abundant in vertebrate genomes; mutations within the tracts occur more frequently than the genome-wide average; mutations generally increase with increasing tract length; length instability is a hallmark of mismatch repair-deficiency in cancers; and sequence polymorphism within the general population has been linked to phenotypic diversity (1115). Thus, mononucleotide repeats appear ideal for addressing the question of sequence-dependent mutagenesis since base pairs within the tracts are flanked by identical neighbors. Both historic and recent investigations concur with the conclusion that a major source of mononucleotide repeat polymorphism is the occurrence of slippage (i.e. repeat misalignment) during semiconservative DNA replication, which gives rise to the addition or deletion of repeat units (11,12). An additional and equally important source of mutation has recently been suggested to arise from errors in DNA replication by translesion synthesis DNA polymerases, such as pol η and pol κ (13), also on slipped intermediates, leading to single base substitutions.

A key question that remains unanswered in these studies and which is relevant to the issue of sequence context-dependent mutagenesis is whether all base pairs within mononucleotide repeats display identical susceptibility to single base changes and whether indels (which are consequent to DNA breakage) occur randomly within the tracts.

Herein, we combine bioinformatics analyses on mononucleotide repeat variants from the 1000 Genomes Project and cancer genomes with molecular dynamics simulations and hybrid quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics calculations to address the question of sequence-dependent mutagenesis within these tracts. We show that mutations along both A-tracts and G-tracts are highly non-uniform. Specifically, both base substitutions and indels occur preferentially at the first and last bp of A-tracts, whereas they are concentrated between the second and third G:C base pairs in G-tracts. These positions coincide with the most flexible base pairs for A-tracts and with the preferential localization of a ‘hole’ that results when one electron is lost due to an oxidation reaction anywhere along G-tracts. Thus, despite the uniformity of sequence composition, mutations occur in a sequence-dependent context at homopolymeric runs according to a hierarchy that is imposed by both local DNA structural features and long-range base–base interactions. We also show that the repair processes leading to base substitution must differ between A- and G-tracts, since in the former, but not in the latter, base substitutions occur predominantly in the direction of the base immediately flanking the tracts. Additional sequence-dependent patterns of mutation are likely to arise from studies of more heterogeneous sequence combinations, possibly involving other aspects intrinsic to the structure of DNA.

RESULTS

### Mononucleotide repeat variation is defined by tract length and flanking base composition

We define mononucleotide repeats in the GRCh37/hg19 (hg19) human genome assembly as uninterrupted runs of A:T and G:C base pairs (hereafter referred to as A-tracts and G-tracts, respectively) from 4 to 13 base pairs in length (Figure 1A). We retrieved a total of 48,767,945 A-tracts and 13,633,781 G-tracts, both of which displayed a biphasic distribution with an inflection point between tract lengths of 8 and 9 (bp) and with the number of runs declining with length more dramatically for G-tracts than for A-tracts (Figure 1B), as noted previously (29). Both the number of short tracts and the extent of decline varied with flanking base composition, TA[n]T runs being two- to three-fold more abundant than CA[n]Cs (Supplementary Figure S1A) and AG[n]As declining the most rapidly (Supplementary Figure S1B). Thus, mononucleotide runs exist as a collection of separate pools of sequences in extant human genomes, each maintained at distinctive rates of sequence stability, as determined by factors such as bp composition (A:T versus G:C), tract length and flanking sequence composition.

View larger version:

Figure 1.

Mononucleotide repeat variation, evolutionary conservation and association with transcription. (A) The search algorithm was designed to retrieve runs of As or Ts (A-tracts) and Gs or Cs (G-tracts) length n (n = 4 to 13), along with their 5′ (n = 0) and 3′ (n = n + 1) nearest neighbors from hg19. Tract bases were numbered 5′ to 3′ with respect to the purine-rich sequence. The panel exemplifies the nomenclature for A- and G-tracts of length 4. (B) Logarithmic plot of the number of A-tracts (closed circles) and G-tracts (open circles) in hg19 as a function of length. (C) Normalized fractions of polymorphic tracts (F SNV) (number of SNVs divided by both hg19 number of tracts and n) from the 1KGP for A-tracts (closed circles) and G-tracts (open circles). (D) Radial plot of SNVs in the 1KGP at the 5′ and 3′ nearest neighbors of A-tracts. Periphery, tract length; horizontal axis, scale for the fraction of SNVs (F SNV). (E) Radial plot of SNVs in the 1KGP at the 5′ and 3′ nearest neighbors of G-tracts. (F) Percent difference in the numbers of A-tracts (closed circles) and G-tracts (open circles) between syntenic regions of hg19 and HN genomes. (G) The exponents of Benjamini-corrected P-values for A-tract-containing genes enriched in transcription-factor binding sites plotted as a function of A-tract length (triangles); each value represents the median of the top 11 USCS_TFBS terms. The percent A-tracts (closed circles) and G-tracts (open circles) intersecting genomic regions pulled-down by chromatin immunoprecipitation using antibodies against transcription factors are plotted as a function of tract length. (H) List of gene enrichment terms with a Benjamini-corrected P-value of <0.05 in common between genes containing A- and G-tracts of lengths 4–13, excluding the UCSC_TFBS terms.

We examined the extent of sequence variation in the human population by mapping 38,878,546 single nucleotide variants (SNVs) from 1092 haplotype-resolved genomes (the 1000 Genomes Project, 1KGP) (30) to the hg19 A- and G-tracts. The normalized fractions of polymorphic tracts (F SNV) were greater for G-tracts than A-tracts and both displayed Gaussian-type distributions, with maxima of 0.067 for G-tracts of length 8 and 0.017 for A-tracts of length 9 (Figure 1C). CA[n]C and AG[n]A runs displayed the highest F SNV values for A- and G-tracts, respectively (Supplementary Figure S1C and D), with F SNV values for AG[n]As attaining ∼0.10 at length 8. We conclude that flanking base composition influences the rates of SNV within mononucleotide runs and, as a consequence, their representation in the reference human genome.

F SNV values at the flanking 5′ and 3′ bp were similar between A- and G-tracts, except for minor differences for the least represented (i.e. longest) tracts and did not exceed 0.02 (Supplementary Figure S1E). These fractions are expected to be greater than at more distant positions from the tracts, based on previous data (29). SNVs at G-tracts, but not at A-tracts, were more frequent than at flanking base pairs. F SNVs for base pairs flanking short (≤8 bp) tracts were at least twice as high as those flanking long tracts; F SNVs also displayed distinct sequence preference with most (∼0.1) variants occurring at Ts 3′ of G-tracts (Figure 1D and E). In summary, SNVs at mononucleotide runs do not increase monotonically with length but peak at 8–9 bp. This behavior mirrors the genomic distributions, both with respect to the total number of tracts (Figure 1B) and the subsets flanked by specific-sequence combinations (Supplementary Figure S1A–D). Variation at flanking base pairs also displayed a biphasic pattern centered at a length of 8–9 bp, with a greater chance of variation adjacent to G- than A-tracts and with characteristic sequence preferences.

### Long tracts are evolutionarily conserved and associated with high transcription

To assess whether more variable monosatellite runs (Figure 1C) might have undergone a greater reduction in number in extant humans relative to extinct hominids, we compared the number of A- and G-tracts between syntenic regions of five individuals comprising hg19 and three Neanderthal (HN) specimens (31). The difference between hg19 and HN was very small (<±2%) for the short tracts, but it displayed more negative values in hg19 with increasing tract length, which reached a maximum of −11.8 and −32.7% for A- and G-tracts, respectively, of length 9. Beyond this threshold, the numbers of tracts converged for A-tracts, whereas they were more abundant in hg19 for G-tracts >11 bp (Figure 1F). In summary, the largest difference in the number of mononucleotide runs between hg19 and HN sequences was centered at 9 bp for both A- and G-tracts, suggesting that the length distributions (Figure 1A and Supplementary Figure S1A and B) reflect distinct rates of evolutionary gains and losses due to differential sequence mutability (Figure 1C) as a function of length and flanking sequence composition (12).

The fact that long (>9 bp) mononucleotide runs display low variability in the human population (Figure 1C) and sequence conservation during evolutionary divergence (Figure 1F) raises the possibility that they might serve functional roles. Through gene enrichment analyses, we found that genes containing A- and G-tracts were enriched for genes associated with the term ‘UCSC_TFBS’, which pertains to transcripts harboring frequent transcription factor binding sites (32,33). For A-tract-containing genes, the median P-values for the top 11 UCSC_TFBS terms decreased from 2.95E-26 for tracts of length 4 to 5.22E-241 for tracts of length 13 (Figure 1G). The percent of A-tracts intersecting genomic fragments amplified from chromatin immunoprecipitation using transcription-factor binding antibodies (32,33) also increased from 8.7 to 9.9 from length 6 to 13, whereas it was constant (mean ± SD, 22.4 ± 1.1) for G-tracts (Figure1G). For gene classes excluding ‘UCSC_TFBS’, a search for categories enriched at P < 0.05 and common to all A- and G-tract-containing genes returned a set of 25 terms, 22 of which were associated with high levels of tissue-specific gene expression (Figure 1H). In summary, these analyses extend prior work (14) supporting a role for mononucleotide tracts in enhancing gene expression, a function that for A-tracts appears to increase with increasing tract length.

### Repeat variability is highly skewed

Next we addressed whether bp along A- and G-tracts display equal probability and type of variation. In the 1KGP dataset, the number of SNVs at each position along both A- and G-tracts of length 4 was within a two-fold difference (144,000–240,000); for both types of sequence, transitions (i.e. A→G and G→A) were the predominant (51–78%) type of base substitution (Supplementary Figure S2A and B). However, with increasing length, the number of SNVs decreased up to 30-fold more drastically for G-tracts than for A-tracts, with increasing numbers of transversions (A→T and G→C|T) being predominant. Normalizing the data for the number of tracts genome-wide revealed that the extent of SNV varied by up to 10-fold, depending upon tract length and bp position. Specifically, the highest degree of variation was observed at the first and last A within the A-tracts (i.e. A1 and An), which underwent up to 61% A→T and 43% A→C transversions, respectively, at length 9 (Figure 2A). Likewise, for G-tracts, the most polymorphic sites were G3, followed by G2, for mid-size tracts of 8–10 bp, with 44% G→C transversions at G3 for tracts of length 8 (Figure2B). Thus, the extent of SNV at mononucleotide runs is grossly skewed in human genomes, both along the sequence itself and across tract length, which must account for the bell-shape behavior in F SNV for the tracts as a whole (Figure 1C).

View larger version:

Figure 2.

Population variation spectra. (A) Variation spectra of A-tracts. Percent (number of SNVs at each position divided by the number of tracts in hg19 × 100) of A→T (black), A→C (red) and A→G (green) SNVs in the 1KGP dataset (left). Percent SNVs at A1 as a function of tract length (right). (B) Variation spectra of G-tracts. As in panel A with G→T (black), G→C (red) and G→A (cyan) (left). Percent SNVs at G3 as a function of tract length (right). (C) Percent A→T, A→C and A→G transitions at each position along A-tracts (stars) preceded and followed by a T (TA[n]T, left), C (CA[n]C), center) and G (GA[n]G, right) as a function of tract length. (D) Percent G→T, G→C and G→A transitions at each position along G-tracts (stars) preceded and followed by a T (TG[n]T, left), C (CG[n]C), center) and A (AG[n]A, right) as a function of tract length. (E) Percent transitions at base pairs (stars) preceding or following A-tracts (left) and G-tracts (right) as a function of tract length (n). *, mutated position.

We assessed whether SNV hypervariability was associated with specific combinations of nearest neighbors. For A-tracts flanked 5′ by a T, C or G, the highest percentage of SNVs was observed at A1 when preceded by a T, which reached 7.9% for TA[n] tracts of length 9 (Supplementary Figure S2C). By contrast, for 3′ T, C or G, the greatest effect was elicited by a C, with the highest percentage (7.1%) of SNVs at An for A[n]C tracts of length 9 (Supplementary Figure S2D). Therefore, flanking base pairs play a critical role both in the spectra and frequencies of SNVs at A-tracts. More detailed plots along A-tracts either preceded (Supplementary Figure S2E), followed (Supplementary Figure S2F) or preceded and followed (Figure 2C) by a T, C or G revealed the dramatic and long-range (up to 9–10 bp for the longest tracts, higher than the value of 4 bp predicted by mathematical models of slippage (11)) influence of flanking base pairs on variation spectra, in which up to 95% of the changes were in the direction of the base flanking the tract. Because the number of A-tracts preceded or followed by a specific base varies by up to three-fold (Supplementary Figure S2G), we conclude that for A-tracts, the overall mutation fractions and spectra are the result of at least three variables; length, position along the tract, and base composition of the 5′ and 3′ nearest-neighbors.

For G-tracts flanked 5′ by a T, C or A, high percentages (10–12%) of SNVs were observed at G1 for tracts preceded by a C, an effect that decreased with increasing tract length (Supplementary Figure S3A). This result, together with an exceedingly low number of G→A transitions at G1 for tracts not preceded by a C (Supplementary Figure S3C) relative to all tracts (Supplementary Figure S2B), is consistent with the known high mutability of CG:CG dinucleotides as a result of cytosine-5 methylation (9). The hypermutability at G2 was observed preferentially for tracts preceded by an A, and to a lesser extent T, whereas that at G3 was insensitive to flanking sequence composition. Likewise, G-tracts flanked 3′ by a T, C or A did not display marked sequence-dependent effects (Supplementary Figure S3B). Detailed plots of the SNV spectra along G-tracts either preceded (Supplementary Figure S3D), followed (Supplementary Figure S3E), or preceded and followed (Figure 2D) by a T, C or A revealed a noticeable effect only for 5′ T in association with G→T substitutions at G1for tracts of length ≥8. Thus, despite a consistent over-representation of G-tracts flanked 5′ by a T (Supplementary Figures S3F and S1B), which must account for the high absolute number of SNVs at G1 for TG[n] relative to AG[n] and CG[n] (Supplementary Figure S3G), nearest-neighbor base composition seems to play a lesser role in SNV spectra at G-tracts than at A-tracts.

With respect to SNVs at the flanking 5′ and 3′ nearest positions, no B→A or H→G substitutions (Figure 1A) were found above a length threshold of 9 for A-tracts and 8 for G-tracts (Figure 2E, gray shading) out of 5969 SNVs, implying that tract expansion by recruiting flanking base pairs is disfavored at these lengths. In summary, base substitution along mononucleotide repeats is strongly skewed towards the edges of A-tracts and within the 5′ half of G-tracts, with frequencies that peak at midsize lengths (8–9 bp). For A-tracts ≥7 bp, base substitution occurred almost exclusively in the direction of the flanking nearest-neighbors. Finally, base substitution at flanking bases did not contribute to tract expansion for mononucleotide runs longer than 8–9 bp.

### Insertions and deletions display length and positional preference

In addition to SNVs, mononucleotide runs are polymorphic in length as a result of indels. Herein, we consider separately two types of indels: one in which tract length changes by ±1 and flanking bp composition is not altered (slippage); the other comprising all other cases involving the addition or removal of 1–200 bp (indels). Slippage is a widely accepted mutational mechanism (1112,34), whereby DNA replication errors at reiterated DNA motifs cause changes in the number of motifs (most often +/−1). The normalized fractions of slippage in the 1KGP dataset peaked at lengths of 8 bp for A-tracts and 9 bp for G-tracts (Figure 3A), generating bell-shaped curves similar to those observed for SNVs (Figure1C) and with no differences in the highest fraction of ‘slipped’ tracts, which peaked at ∼0.02. By contrast, +1 slippage occurred more frequently than −1 slippage at A-tracts (Figure 3B). These results support recent studies on microsatellite repeats (12) and contrast with previous conclusions that slippage increases monotonically with tract length, and that the extent of slippage differs between A- and G-tracts (35,36).

View larger version:

Figure 3.

Population insertions and deletions. (A) Normalized fractions of A-tracts (closed circles) and G-tracts (open circles) displaying +/−1 bp slippage in the 1KGP dataset as a function of tract length. Data were obtained by dividing the number of events by both the number of hg19 tracts and tract length (n). (B) Ratio of the number of +1 to −1 slippage for A-tracts (closed circles) and G-tracts (open circles). (C) Indels at A-tracts. For positions along the tracts (‘Tract’), ‘F Indel’ is the ratio between the number of indels and the number of tracts in hg19 multiplied by tract length. For the positions immediately flanking the tracts genomic coordinates (‘Before tract’ and ‘After tract’), ‘F Indel’ is the ratio between the number of indels and the number of tracts in hg19. (D) Indels at G-tracts, calculated as described in panel C. (E) Heatmap representation of insertions along A-tracts. The percent insertions (i.e. the number of insertions at each position divided by the number of tracts in hg19) (y-axis) plotted as a function of location (x-axis) from position 0 (insertion between the bp 5′ to the tract and the first bp of the tract) to position n + 1 (insertion between the bp 3′ to the last bp of the tract and the following bp) (see Figure 1A) and as a function of tract length (z-axis). (F) Heatmap representation of insertions along G-tracts.

With respect to indels, the normalized fractions were low (<1 × 10−3) along short (4–6 bp) A- and G-tracts, but rose to a plateau for longer tracts as reported earlier (11); this plateau was 10-fold higher for G-tracts (∼0.03) than for A-tracts (∼0.003) (Figure 3C and D). Indels also occurred more frequently (up to six-fold for A-tracts of length 11) at nearest-neighboring base pairs (‘Before tract’ and ‘After tract’ in Figure 3C and D) than along the tracts. Thus, contrary to SNVs and slippage, indels increased to a plateau with mononucleotide tract length.

We analyzed in detail the locations of insertions along the tracts and the flanking positions with respect to the 5′ to 3′ orientation of the tracts (Figure 1A). The normalized fractions demonstrated that insertions peaked at the 3′, and to a lesser extent 5′, ends of the longest A-tracts (Figure 3E), but remained low. For G-tracts, insertions occurred most efficiently at two locations (G2–3 and G5) (Figure 3F), they increased with tract length (up to ∼0.04), and attained ∼10-fold higher values than for A-tracts. In conclusion, insertion sites at A- and G-tracts followed the patterns observed for SNVs (Figure 2A and B), suggesting that factors associated with local DNA dynamics sensitize specific bases along the tracts to genetic alteration, inducing both SBS and indels.

### Base pair flexibility and charge localization map to sites of sequence changes

To elucidate elements of intrinsic DNA dynamics that may be responsible for the biases in SNV and insertion sites, we performed molecular dynamics (MD) and hybrid quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics (QM/MM) simulations on model A[6], A[9], G[6] and G[9] duplex DNA fragments. We focused on water bridge coordination (Figure 4A), bp step flexibility, and for the G[6] and G[9], charge localization, as these properties are known to impact the susceptibility of DNA to base damage, repair and mutation. The fractions of one water coordination increased along the A[9] and A[6] structures in a 5′ to 3′ direction, irrespective of flanking sequence composition, in concert with a decrease in minor groove width (Figure 4B and Supplementary Figure S4A) as predicted (37). Vstep, a measure of bp structural fluctuation, displayed a prominent peak of ∼40 Å3deg3 at the 5′-TA-3′ step for both structures (Figure 4C and Supplementary Figure S4B), which together with low water occupancy points to 5′-TA-3′ being a preferred location for base modification and mutation. In the G[9] and G[6] structures water coordination involved mostly two-water bridges due to wide (∼14 Å) minor grooves (Figure 4Dand Supplementary Figure S4C), whereas flexibility was modest (∼20–22 Å3deg3, Figure 4E and Supplementary Figure S4D). Thus, bp dynamics are likely to impact mutations at A-tracts to a greater extent than at G-tracts. Guanine has the lowest ionization potential (IP) of all four bases and IP further decreases at guanine runs, rendering them targets for electron loss, charge localization, oxidation and eventually mutation (4,38). Because after electron loss the ensuing charge (hole) can migrate along the DNA double-helix and relocalize at specific guanines, we addressed whether the preferred sites of mutation along G-tracts, i.e. G2–3 and G5, would also be preferred sites for charge localization. The QM/MM determinations indicated that whereas for the short G[6] fragment the difference in the density-derived atomic partial charges (DDAPC) (i.e. the hole) localized most often (∼50%) to the first position (Figure 4F), for the long G[9] fragment charge localization shifted downstream (mostly to the second, but also to positions 6–7, Figure 4G). Importantly, the charge was found exclusively around the guanine rings (Figure 4H). Thus, the two main sites of sequence change along G-tracts, i.e. G2–3 and G5, coincide with positions where charge localization and hence one-electron oxidation reactions is predicted to occur most frequently. In summary, bp flexibility at A-tracts and charge transfer at G-tracts likely represent intrinsic DNA features underlying the bias in SNV and insertions at mononucleotide runs in human genomes.

View larger version:

Figure 4.

MD and QM/MM simulations. (A) Molecular modeling of one (left) and two (right) minor groove water bridge coordination. (B) Fraction of one-water bridge occupancy (left axis) at A[9] DNA sequences flanked 5′ and 3′ by a T (black circles), C (red circles) or G (green circles). Minor groove widths (right axis), as determined from intrastrand phosphate-to-phosphate distances. (C) Vstep for A[9] DNA sequences, determined as the product of the square root of the eigenvalues (λi) described by the six bp step parameters shift, slide, rise, tilt, roll and twist; i.e. Vstep=6i=1λi−−√. (D) Fraction of one- (black circles) and two-water (red circles) bridge occupancy (left axis) at G[9] DNA sequences. Minor groove widths (right axis), as assessed from intrastrand phosphate-to-phosphate distances. (E) Vstep for G9 DNA sequences. (F) Average charge redistribution (open circles and right axis) for G[6] DNA structures upon vertical ionization, examined by calculating the difference on the density-derived atomic partial charges (DDAPC) for the neutral and negatively charged states. Histogram of the number of instances (left axis) in which the largest charge redistribution occurred at a specific position along the G[6] structures. (G) DDAPC for G[9] DNA structures (open circles and right axis) and histogram of the number of instances (left axis) in which the largest charge redistribution occurred at a specific position. (H) VMD rendering of a G[9] DNA structure displaying hole localization at G2. Capped base pairs were removed for clarity.

### Position and orientation along nucleosome core particles modulate sequence variation

DNA wrapped around histones in nucleosomes is subject to local deformation (39), which may impact mutation. Thus, we analyzed the 1KGP SNVs at A- and G-tracts predicted to overlap with well-positioned nucleosome core particles (NCPs) (16). In hg19, the percentage of tracts that overlap with NCPs decreased moderately from ∼90% at length of 4 to 81% and 71% for A- and G-tracts of length 13, respectively (Figure 5A), suggesting that mononucleotide runs are not depleted in NCPs in human genomes as previously proposed (40). A-tracts of lengths 4–8 base pairs displayed distinctive peaks along the NCP surface in phase with the helical repeat of DNA (10.5 bp) and with minor grooves facing toward the inner protein core (lengths 4–5) (16) (Figure 5B and Supplementary Figure S5A). A-tracts of length of 9–13 bp exhibited only half (six) the peaks evident for the shorter tracts. For the G-tracts, only small peaks with no clear minor groove-inward-facing regions were detected (Supplementary Figure S5B).

View larger version:

Figure 5.

Positioning along nucleosome core particles. (A) Percent of A-tract (open circles) and G-tract (closed circles) base pairs in hg19 overlapping with well-positioned NCP genomic coordinates as a function of tract length. (B) Counts of base pairs in hg19 A-tracts of length 5 overlapping with NCPs genomic regions as a function of distance from the histone octamer dyad axis. Minor groove-inward-facing regions (gray) were derived from the X-ray crystal structure of NCP147 (41). (C) Percent SNVs in the 1KGP dataset (left axis) at every bp along A-tracts of length 5 for tracts centered at maxima (black) and minima (gray) along NCPs (Figure 5B). Percent increase (right axis) of SNVs at minima relative to maxima (green). P-values for paired t-tests: 0.013 (*), 0.002 (**) and 4.7 × 10−6 (***). (D) Whisker plots of%SNVs (left axis) at A1 for A-tracts of length 5 centered at maxima and minima (black) along NCPs (Figure 5B). Percent difference (right axis) in the number of A-tracts of length 5 in hg19 preceded by C, T or G (red) between those centered at minima and those centered at maxima (Figure5B). (E) C-containing/G-containing ratios (see text) for G-tracts of length 5 in hg19 as a function of distance from the NCP dyad axis (black) and location of core histones (maroon and green). Peaks correspond to negative iSAT (i.e. tilt parameters multiplied by the corresponding sin θ) values (gray) (39). Ratios of%SNV at G1 (upshifted by 0.5 for clarity) between C-containing (5′-CCCCCG-3′ sequences on the hg19 forward strand) and G-containing (5′-CGGGGG-3′ sequences on the hg19 forward strand) (Figure 1A) CG[5] tracts mapping NCP Chip-seq genomic intervals (red) fitted by a non-parametric local regression (loess; sampling proportion, 0.100; polynomial degree, 3). (F) VMD rendering (top) of TATTT residues 34–38 (yellow) and the complementary AAATA residues 672–753 (pink) from the 1EQZ pdb nucleosomal crystal structure, corresponding to peak area from −40 to −36 in Figure 5E. The switch in G-tract (lengths of 5 and 7) orientation along NCPs (bottom) serves to position the C-containing strand on the outside (yellow) and, correspondingly, the G-containing strand on the inside (pink).

To assess if tract-positioning along NCPs influences SNVs, we selected A-tracts of lengths 5, 7 and 9 bp and G-tracts of lengths 5 and 7 bp whose central positions coincided with either the maxima or minima (41) (Figure 5B and Supplementary Figure S5A and B) and conducted pair-wiset-tests (330 total) between permutations of ‘categories’, including ‘tracts centered at maxima versus minima’, ‘position along the tracts’, ‘flanking sequence composition’, ‘specific NCP locations’ and ‘tract orientation’. For A-tracts, 79/207 (38%) significant pairs were found, 68 (86%) of which were related to differences between tracts centered at maxima versus minima, with a preponderance (63%) of tests displaying increased %SNVs at minima (Supplementary Figure S5C and E). For example, %SNVs at length 5 bp were greater at minima than at maxima at each position along the A-tracts (Figure 5C). A→C substitutions at A1 were more abundant at maxima than at minima (mean ± SD, 18.7 ± 0.7% at max and 17.6 ± 0.8% at min; P-value 0.001), whereas A→T substitutions at the same position displayed the opposite trend (mean ± SD, 18.4 ± 0.5% at max and 19.8 ± 1.1% at min; P-value 0.0005) (Figure 5D). A-tracts of length 7 also exhibited a similar pattern at A7 (Supplementary Figure S5H). The percentages of CA[5] and A[7]C tracts in hg19 centered at maxima were greater than at minima and the reverse was observed for the TA[5] and A[7T] tracts (Figure 5D and Supplementary Figure S5H). Thus, we conclude that positioning along the NCP surface of both the double-helical grooves and junctions with flanking base pairs influence SNVs along A-tracts. However, this influence is complex and for the most part, difficult to predict.

For G-tracts, most pairwise comparisons (18/34, 53%) indicated SNV variation according to sequence orientation (Supplementary Figure S5F and G). In hg19, the ratio of the numbers of G-tracts of lengths 5 and 7 for which the C-containing strand coincided with the forward sequence (downstream example sequence in Figure 1A) to the numbers of G-tracts for which the G-containing strand coincided with the forward sequence (upstream example sequence in Figure 1A) (C-containing/G-containing ratios) displayed a prominent 10.5-bp oscillation in phase with iSAT (Figure 5E), a measure of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ bases, according to the bp step tilt parameter (39). Analysis of the helical path of a 146-bp DNA fragment wrapped around histones showed that the oscillation in the C-containing/G-containing ratios corresponds to a preference for guanine bases to face the protein core (Figure 5F). We analyzed the subset of G-tracts preceded by a 5′ C (i.e. CG[5]) to assess whether SNVs at G1, the position known to be mutable due to CpG methylation also oscillated with the C-containing/G-containing ratios. Oscillation in SNV-C-containing/SNV-G-containing values was evident, with peaks aligning to the hg19 troughs (Figure 5E) implying that the cytosines facing the protein surface harbor more variants than those facing away. We conclude that A- and G-tracts display preferential positioning (the former) and orientation (the latter) along NCPs, which in turn modulate the rate of sequence variation.

### Mutations associated with human disease

Knowing that the first and last As of long A-tracts and G2–3 in G-tracts are the major sites of SNV in the human population, we addressed whether these features are also discernible in mutated mononucleotide tracts associated with human genetic disease. We collected 9,450,456 unique SBSs (both SBSs and SNVs refer to single base changes) from sequenced cancer genomes and normalized the percent mutations along A- and G-tracts to enable a direct comparison with the 1KGP dataset. For A-tracts (Figure 6A and Supplementary Figure S6A), SBSs displayed the same trend as the 1KGP data (Figure 2A) with respect to the bell-shape increase in mutations at A1 and An and the mutation spectra, although the susceptibility to mutation as a function of tract length attained greater values (6.36% for length 11 in cancer versus 4.15% for length 9 in the 1KGP datasets at A1). The first and last 3 bp also harbored more SBSs than in the 1KGP dataset for tracts >7 bp, a feature that we found to be due exclusively to a large cancer dataset (42) containing high-level microsatellite instability (MSI) samples (Supplementary Figure S6B and C), which are known to result from mismatch-repair deficiency (15). Thus, A-tracts display similar patterns of base substitution between the germline and somatic cancer tissues. For G-tracts, mutation spectra were characterized by G→T transversions at tract lengths >7, particularly at G1, the most frequently mutated position for tracts lengths up to 11 bp (Figure 6B and Supplementary Figure S6D). This trend persisted even when the high rates of methylation-mediated deamination mutations at the CG dinucleotide were removed (Supplementary Figure S6E). Thus, mutation patterns in cancer genomes contrast with those observed in the germline, both with respect to the most mutable position (G1 versus G2–3) and the types of base substitution (G→T in cancer genomes versus G→T and G→C in the germline).

View larger version:

Figure 6.

Mutation patterns in cancer genomes. (A) Mutation spectra for SBSs at A-tracts. Percent values were obtained by dividing the total number of SBSs at each position by the number of tracts in hg19 and then multiplying by 3.2516 to equalize the percentage of A-tracts of length 4 between the cancer genomes and the 1KGP datasets. (B) Mutation spectra for SBSs at G-tracts in cancer genomes. Percent values were obtained as in (A) using a multiplication factor of 3.7419. (C) Normalized fractions of A-tracts (closed circles) and G-tracts (open circles) displaying +/−1 bp slippage, obtained by dividing the number of events by both the number of tracts in hg19 and tract length. (D) Indels at A-tracts, calculated as described in Figure 3C. (E) Indels at G-tracts, calculated as described in Figure3C. (F) Heatmap representation of insertions along G-tracts, as described in Figure 3E.

With respect to slippage, the fractions for A-tracts elicited an excess at lengths 9 and 10 bp relative to the 1KGP dataset, which was also due to the MSI-containing dataset. For G-tracts, the fractions peaked at length 8, as for the 1KGP dataset (Figures 3A and 6C), implying that the propensity to undergo slippage is indistinguishable between the germline and soma. Indels were also more abundant at flanking base pairs than along the tracts (Figure 6D and E), particularly for G-tracts of length >7, similar to the 1KGP dataset (Figure 3C and D). Detailed analyses of insertions revealed that both G1 and the preceding position were the most significant sites of mutation (F-values up to 0.08 at G1 for tracts of length 8) (Figure 6F). Thus, the 5′ end of long G-tracts is the most susceptible site for both SBSs and insertions in cancer genomes, in contrast to the germline where these occur within the runs, typically at G2–3.

We also extracted the mutated A- and G-tracts from the Human Gene Mutation Database (HGMD), a collection of >150,000 germline gene mutations associated with human inherited disease. A total of 1519 genes were mutated at A- or G-tracts out of a total of 3972 (38%); 3480 SBSs and 2866 slippage events were noted within these tracts, 85 and 46% of which were predicted to be disease-causing, respectively (Figure 7A and Supplementary Table S1). Ranking genes by the number of literature reports indicated that among the top 10 entries three were associated with cancer (BRCA1, BRCA2 and APC), two with hemophilia (F8 and F9), four with debilitating lesions of the skin (COL71A), muscle (DMD), lung (CFTR) and kidney (PKD1), with one causing hypercholesterolemia (LDLR) (Figure 7B). Thus, mutations within A- and G-tracts carry a high social burden by contributing to some of the most common human pathological conditions.

View larger version:

Figure 7.

Mutation patterns in HGMD and model for sequence context-dependent changes. (A) Number of germline SBSs and slippage events (Slip.) at A- and G-tracts in HGMD. Gene alterations were classified as disease-causing mutation (DM), likely disease-causing mutation (DM?), disease-associated and putatively functional polymorphism (DFP), disease-associated polymorphism with additional supporting functional evidence (DP) and invitro/laboratory orinvivo functional polymorphism (FP). Codon changes (SIFT predictor) were classified as damaging (d), null (n), tolerated (t) and low-confidence prediction (l). (B) The 10 most commonly reported genes in HGMD with mutations at A- and G-tracts. Various mutated tracts were generally reported for the same gene in different reports. (C) Mutation spectra for SBSs at A- (left) and G-tracts (right) in HGMD. Percent values were obtained by dividing the total number of SBSs at each position by the number of tracts in hg19 exons. A|G→T (black), A|G→C (red), A→G (green), G→A (cyan). (D) Normalized fractions of A-tracts (closed circles) and G-tracts (open circles) displaying +/−1 bp slippage, obtained by dividing the total number of events by the number of tracts in hg19 exons and by tract length. (E) Model for sequence context-dependent changes at A-tracts (left) and G-tracts (right). *, site of base modification.

For both A- and G-tracts, SBSs occurred mostly at tract lengths of 4–7, with patterns more similar to those in the 1KGP than in the cancer datasets, both with respect to the location of the most mutable positions (first and last As and first/second Gs) and the types of base substitution (A→T and G→H) (Figure 7C and Supplementary Figure S6F). Likewise, slippage events peaked at tract lengths of 7–9 as observed in the 1KGP dataset (Figure 7D). In summary, the patterns of both SBSs and slippage in the HGMD dataset followed the trend observed in the 1KGP dataset, suggesting that germline variants at mononucleotide repeats leading to either population variation or human inherited disease may have arisen through similar mechanisms.
DISCUSSION

Why are specific A:T and G:C base pairs within A- and G-tracts more susceptible to sequence changes than their identical neighbors? For A-tracts, bp flexibility may play a role. Chemical damage to DNA, such as by hydroxyl radicals has been shown to be proportional to the geometrical solvent-accessible surface of the atomic groups, which increases with DNA flexibility (43). Along A-tracts flexibility is restricted, but it is high at both the 5′ and 3′ junctions. Thus, the fact that the highest rates of mutation coincide with the highest degree of flexibility at the 5′-TA-3′ bp step is consistent with the view that this position may be susceptible to DNA damage as a result of flexibility. Other sources of DNA dynamics are also likely to be relevant, such as sugar flexibility at the junctions, which increases with tract length (44). Chemical modification at these junctions may then lead to base substitution and indels, the latter as a result of strand breaks.

With respect to SNV mutation spectra, these were found mostly in the direction of flanking base composition above a length of 7–8 bp. We interpret this behavior in terms of DNA slippage along A-tracts when attempts are made during translesion synthesis (TLS) to bypass a damaged site (Figure 7Ei). Two scenarios may be considered to account for A→T transitions at A1. In the first, the last tract-template base would loop out into the polymerase active site permitting base-pairing and strand elongation (Figure 7Eii) using the tract-flanking base as a template (34,4546). In the second (Figure 7Eiii), slippage would occur behind the polymerase, prompting extension past the newly created A*:T mispair generated by primer/template misalignment. Either pathway would yield a common intermediate (Figure 7Eiv) that contains the base complementary to the junction across from the damaged site upon slippage resolution (34). Following DNA synthesis (S) and/or repair (R) (Figure 7Ev and vi), this mispair will generate a base change that is always identical to the tract-flanking base.

For G-tracts, the high rates of G→T transversions at G1 in cancer genomes are also consistent with preferred chemical attack at this site due to high flexibility (Figure 7F top). Direct chemical attack at a guanine is known to result in stable products, such as 8-oxo-G and Fapy-G, both of which are known to yield G→T transversions (4750). Thus, G1 may be the most susceptible site for such reactions for G-tracts of lengths ≥7 (Figure 7Fright), which in cancer genomes would become a mutation hotspot. In the germline, SNVs peaked inside G-tract base pairs, while mutational spectra were insensitive to flanking base composition; these events are inconsistent with a role for template misalignment and slippage as noted for A-tracts. Rather, the correspondence between hotspot mutations at G2–3 and G5 and the QM/MM simulations suggest a role for charge transfer. A large body of work during the past 20 years using computational, theoretical chemistry and biophysical techniques on short oligonucleotides, has shown that guanine is the most easily oxidizable base in DNA and that indeed a guanine radical cation can be generated through long-range hole transfer from an oxidant via one-electron oxidation mechanisms (5155). GGG triplets were found to act as the most effective traps in hole transfer by both experimental and theoretical work (5659), demonstrating that the resulting guanine radical cation (or its neutral deprotonated form) became rather delocalized, but it preferentially centered at the first and second G. These well-established patterns of chemical reactivity are consistent with our experimental observation of high mutation frequencies at G1 for short G-tracts and the results from QM/MM simulations on G6. For longer tracts, the downstream shift in mutation hotspots, i.e., G2–3 and G5, also correlate well with the charge localization predicted from QM/MM simulations, which explicitly included solvent effects and structural fluctuations. Thus, in conjunction with the constrained density functional theory (60), both the neutral and oxidized forms of a guanine nucleobase can be reliably constructed to infer the accurate determination of mutational patterns of mononucleotide repeats in human genomic DNA.

The compact organization of the sperm genome (61), and presumably low levels of oxidative stress in the germline, may enable guanine oxidization through one-electron oxidation reactions rather than by direct chemical attack, thereby favoring the formation of radical cations. A charge injected at G1 by electron loss would then migrate to neighboring guanines and localize at sites of low IP, such as G2 (Figure 7F left). Guanine radical cations are known to readily undergo further chemical modification leading to products such as 8-oxo-G, oxazolone, imidazolone, guanidinohydantoin, and spiroiminodyhydantoin (62) (M in Figure 7F), to yield G→T, G→C and G→A substitutions (4,63). Our model is in line with recent observations in which mutations at guanines within short G-runs (1–4 bp) correlate with sequence-dependent IPs at the target guanine in cancer genomes (9). Interestingly, these correlations were not observed in the germline (9). We interpret these composite observations as follows. The IP values for G-runs have been shown to decrease asymptotically with tract length, although the absolute values vary according to the methods and assumptions used (we obtained a value of 5.43 eV for both G[6] and G[9]) (64,65). We suggest that short G-runs with high IPs undergo one-electron oxidation reactions in the oxidative environment of cancer cells but would be refractory to such a mechanism in the germline (Figure 7Fright yellow and left white sectors). As length increases and IP values fall, G-runs would be attacked directly by oxidants abundant in tumor cells (Figure 7F orange sector), whereas oxidation will be limited to electron loss in the germline environment (Figure 7F left yellow sector).

These models (template misalignment for A-tracts and charge transfer for G-tracts) suggest a more complex scenario for mechanisms underlying mononucleotide repeat polymorphism in the human population than recently proposed (13), in which nucleotide misincorporation by error-prone polymerases is proposed as a primary source of mutations at both A- and G-tracts. As already stated, the directionality of SNVs toward tract-flanking bases in A-tracts and the hotspot mutations at G2–3, supports multiple and distinct mechanisms of base substitution at mononucleotide repeats.

Our analyses highlight additional information, including the lack of mutations in the direction of tract-base composition for base pairs flanking long tracts, the association with gene expression and the preference of guanines for the inner NCP surface, and extend prior observations (12) such as the bell-shape character of base substitution and slippage, whose mechanisms remain to be fully clarified. Finally, we document the contribution of mononucleotide mutagenesis to key aspects of human pathology beyond the well-established MSI instability in cancer (15), including hemophilia and tissue degeneration. Our collective work supports the conclusion that as the human genome undergoes evolutionary diversification and along the way suffers disease-associated mutations, oxidation reactions including charge transfer may play a prominent role.

SUPPLEMENTARY DATA

Supplementary Data are available at NAR Online.

Mutation analyses and prenatal diagnosis in families of X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency caused by IL2Rγ gene novel mutation

Genet. Mol. Res. 14 (2): 6164 – 6172   DOI: 10.4238/2015.June.9.2
Severe combined immunodeficiency diseases (SCIDs) are a group of primary immunodeficiency diseases characterized by a severe lack of T cells (or T cell dysfunction) caused by various gene abnormalities and accompanied by B cell dysfunction (WHO, 1992; Buckley et al., 1997). The incidence rates in infants were 1/75,000-1/10,0000 (WHO, 1992), but no morbidity statistics are available in China. The 2 genetic modes of SCID include X-linked recessive and autosomal recessive genetic inheritance. X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency (X-SCID) is the most common form, accounting for 50-60% of SCID cases (Noguchi et al., 1993). Immune system abnormalities in patients with X-SCID include T-B+NK-, in which T cells (CD3+) and natural killer (NK) cells (CD16+/CD56+) are absent or significantly reduced, and the number of B cells (CD19+) is normal or increased, causing reduced immunoglobulin production and class switching disorder (Buckley, 2004; Fischer et al., 2005). The IL- 2Rg gene mutation has been confirmed to be a major cause of X-SCID (Noguchi et al., 1993). In recent years, great progress has been made in understanding the pathogenesis of primary immunodeficiency disease and its application in clinical treatment, particularly regarding the development of critical care medicine and immune reconstruction technology. With timely control of infection and early bone marrow or stem cell transplantation, X-SCID patients can be treated, prolonging survival time. Therefore, early diagnosis of X-SCID is very important for patient treatment. Gene diagnosis has become a better early diagnosis or differential diagnosis method. In addition, familial X-SCID brings a great psychological burden to the relatives of patients. Ordinary chromosome analysis and immunological evaluation cannot be used for female carrier identification and fetal diagnosis, and gene diagnosis is the most effective method of carrier detection and prenatal diagnosis. In this study, we detected mutations in 2 families with X-SCID and identified 2 novel mutations, confirming the X-SCID pedigrees. Prenatal diagnosis was performed for the pregnant fetus in the mother of one of the probands based on gene diagnosis. Female individuals in this family were subjected to carrier detection.
IL2Rg gene mutation test Direct sequencing of 1-8 exons and the flanking region of the IL2Rg gene by PCR in family 1 showed that the 3rd exon of the proband contained the c.361-363delGAG heterozygous deletion mutation, which led to deletion of the 121st amino acid glutamate (p.E121del) in its coding product. There were no sequence variations in other coding regions or in the shear zone. The proband’s mother carried the same heterozygous mutation, while his father did not carry the mutation site (Figure 2a, b, c). This mutation was not observed in any cases of the control group, and this family was identified as an X-SCID family. The c.510-511insGAACT insertion heterozygous mutation was present in the 4th exon of the proband’s mother in family 2. This mutation was a 5-base repeat of GAACT, resulting in a change in amino acid 173 from tryptophan into a stop codon (p.W173X). While there were no sequence variations in other coding regions or in the shear zone, the patient’s father did not carry the mutation (see Figure 2d, e). We did not find this mutation in the healthy control group. We presumed that the 4th exon of the deceased child in family 2 contained the c.510-511insGAACT insertion mutation, leading to X-SCID symptoms, and thus we speculated that this family was an X-SCID pedigree. Prenatal diagnosis We verified the chorionic villus status of the fetus in family 1 using the PowerPlex 16 HS System kit. The results of prenatal diagnosis showed that the fetal tissue contained no maternal contamination and that this fetus was female. The results of prenatal diagnosis showed that there was no c.361-363delGAG (p.E121del) heterozygous mutation in the female fetus of family 1.
Figure 2. Sequencing graph of IL2Rg gene in 2 pedigrees with X-chain severe combined immunodeficiency. a.-c. Family 1. a. Normal control (rectangle indicates 3 edentulous bases of this patient). b. Proband carrying the c.361- 363delGAG (p.E121del) mutation (arrow indicates deletion of fragment connection sites). c. The proband’s mother contained a c.361-363delGAG (p.E121del) heterozygous mutation (arrow). d.-e. Family 2. d. The proband’s mother carried the c.510-511insGAACT (p.W173X) heterozygous mutation (arrow indicates that the reverse sequencing graph was positive). e. Normal control (rectangular box indicates 2 normal copies of GAACT (the mutation fragment was 3 copies). Carrier detection results For the c.361-363delGAG (p.E121del) site, the gene analysis results of the female individual in family 1 showed that I2 (proband’s grandmother) was a heterozygous carrier and that II3 (proband’s aunt) was a non-carrier and had no mutations.
IL-2 can combine with the IL-2 receptor (IL-2R) of the immune cell membrane. IL-2R is composed of 3 subunits, including the IL-2Ra chain (CD25), IL-2Rb chain (CD122), and IL- 2Rg chain (CD132). IL-2Rg functional units in common with IL-4, IL-7, IL-9, IL-15, IL-21, and other cytokine receptors, and these regions are referred to as the total chain (Li et al., 2000). The IL-2Rg chain can maintain the integrity of the IL-2R complex and is required for the internalization of the IL-2/IL-2R complex; it is also the link that contacts the cell membrane surface factor region and downstream cell signal transduction molecules. Therefore, the integrity of the IL-2Rg chain is vital for the immune function of an organism (Malka et al., 2008; Shi et al., 2009).
Mutations in the IL2Rg gene, which encodes IL-2Rg, were identified to be a major cause of X-SCID in 1993 (Noguchi et al., 1993). The IL2Rg gene is located on chromosome X q21.3-22, is 37.5 kb length, and contains 8 exons, which encode 369 IL-2Rg amino acids. The IL2Rg chain exhibits varying structural regions, such as the signal peptide [amino acids (AA) 1-22], extracellular domain (AA 23-262), transmembrane region (AA 263-283), and intracellular region (AA 284-369). The WSXWS motif is located in the extracellular region (AA 237-241), while Box 1 is located in the intracellular region (AA 286-294).
By the end of 2013, the Human Gene Mutation Database contained a total of 200 mutations in the IL2Rg gene (HGMD Professional 2013.4). The most common mutation types in the IL2Rg gene were the missense or nonsense mutations, which result from single base changes. A total of 100 missense or nonsense mutations have been identified, followed by insertion or deletion mutations in a total of 50 species. The 3rd most common type of mutations includes shear mutations in approximately 30 species. Eight exons contained mutations, and mutations in 3rd or 4th exons were the highest, accounting for a total mutation rate of 43% (86/200). According to the X-SCID gene database (IL2RGbase) (http://research.nhgri. nih.gov/scid/), the gene mutations in IL2Rg mainly occurred in the extracellular region of the IL2Rg chain (Fugmann et al., 1998). Zhang et al. (2013) reported that the IL2Rg gene mutations in 10 patients with X-SCID in China were located in the extracellular region. Two mutations reported in our study were also located in the extracellular region. The mutation of IL2Rg gene in family 1 was a codon mutation in the 3rd exon, resulting in a 3-base deletion. The c.361-363delGAG (p.E121del) mutation was located in the extracellular area of the IL- 2Rg subunit, and we inferred that the 121 glutamate deletion caused by the mutation would lead to changes in the structure of the peptide chain, affecting signal transmission and resulting in serious symptoms. The mutation of family 2 was a GAACT repeat of ILR2g gene; this repeat of 5 bases resulted in 173 codon changes from tryptophan into a stop codon. Generation of the peptide chain with the mutation lacked 196 amino acids compared to the normal chain, including the intracellular, transmembrane, and some extracellular regions, directly affecting the structure and function of receptors and causing disease. No studies have been reported regarding these 2 mutations. We combined with the mutation characteristics and clinical manifestations and diagnosed family 1 as X-SCID pedigrees. Although the patient in family 2 was deceased, it can be speculated that the 2 deceased patients in family 2 were X-SCID pedigrees caused by c.510-511insGAACT (W173X).
Prenatal diagnosis can accurately identify fetal situations and be used to avoid birth defects, which can also ease the anxiety of the pregnant mother. Gene diagnosis for pedigrees of patients based on DNA samples has advanced recently, particularly with the application of high-throughput sequencing technology (Alsina et al., 2013). We can now perform gene analysis for varied clinical infectious diseases for differential diagnosis. However, the effectiveness of prenatal diagnosis for pedigrees in which the proband is dead remains unclear. Because the gene mutations in the proband is unknown in these cases, the patient’s situation was only inferred by his mother’s genotypes. However, we considered that for the deceased, if we can define the mother was a pathogenic gene carrier, even if the proband is not X-SCID, the woman also has a risk of having X-SCID children and this pedigree may be X-linked recessive inheritance. Prenatal diagnosis may provide a choice for preventing the birth of patients in these families in the premise of informed consent.
Gene diagnosis of IL2Rg can also be used for carrier detection of suspected females in the family.
In the present study, we performed carrier detection of the patient’s grandmother and aunt in family 1 and determined that the patient’s pathogenic mutations were from his grandmother. His aunt did not inherit the pathogenic gene, and thus she was a non-carrier and her fertility will not be affected. In this study, we used direct sequencing of PCR products and identified IL2Rg gene mutations in 2 pedigrees with X-SCID. We found 2 unreported mutations in the IL2Rg gene, and prenatal diagnosis and carrier detection were conducted in 1 X-SCID family. Because the incidence rate of X-SCID is extremely low, it is difficult to promote the widespread use and application of genetic diagnosis. However, this study may provide some implications for the diagnosis of infants with immunodeficiency, and gene diagnosis techniques such as conventional or high-throughput sequencing should be used as soon as possible during pregnancy, which can be used to guide treatment. This method can also provide reliable prenatal diagnosis and carrier detection service for these families.
MEF2A gene mutations and susceptibility to coronary artery disease in the Chinese population
J. Li1 , H.-X. Chen2 , J.-G. Yang3 , W. Li3 , R. Du3 and L. Tian3       DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.4238/2014.October.20.15
Coronary artery disease (CAD) has high morbidity and mortality rates worldwide. Thus, the pathogenesis of CAD has long been the focus of medical studies. Myocyte enhancer factor 2A (MEF2A) was first discovered as a CAD-related gene by Wang (2005) and Wang et al. (2003, 2005). Three mutation points in exon 7 of MEF2A were subsequently identified by Bhagavatula et al. (2004); however, Altshuler and Hirschhorn (2005) and Weng et al. (2005) predicted that the MEF2A gene lacked mutations. Zhou et al. (2006a,b) analyzed the mutations and polymorphisms in exons 7 and 11 of the MEF2A gene in the Han population in Beijing, and various rare mutations were found in exon 11 rather than in exon 7. The clinical significance of specific 21-bp deletions in MEF2A was also explored, and previous studies have shown mixed results. In this study, polymerase chain reaction-singlestrand conformation polymorphism (PCR-SSCP) and DNA sequencing were used to detect exon 11 of the MEF2A gene in samples collected from 210 CAD patients and 190 healthy controls and to investigate the function of the MEF2A gene in CAD pathogenesis and their correlation.
CAD, a common disease in China, is induced by multiple factors, such as genetics, the environment, and lifestyle. Thus, a multi-faceted approach is necessary in the study of CAD pathogenesis, particularly in molecular biology research, which is important for developing comprehensive treatment of CAD based on gene therapy. The MEF2A gene was first identified as a CAD-related gene through linkage analysis of a large family with CAD (9 of 13 patients developed MI) in 2003.
In this study, we found the following mutations: 1) codon 451G/T (147191) heterozygous or homozygous mutation; 2) loss of 1 (Q), 2 (QQ), 3 (QQP), 6 (425QQQQQQ430), and 7 (424QQQQQQQ430) amino acids (147108-147131); and 3) codon 435G/A (147143) heterozygous mutation. Among these mutations, the synonymous mutation at locus 147191 was confirmed by reference to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) database to be a single nucleotide polymorphism, which was also demonstrated in our study by the extensive presence of this polymorphism in healthy controls. However, the heterozygous mutation at locus 147143 was only found in the genomes of CAD patients, and was therefore identified as a mutation.
Impact of glucocerebrosidase mutations on motor and nonmotor complications in Parkinson’s disease

Homozygous and compound heterozygous mutations in GBA encoding glucocerebrosidase lead to Gaucher disease (GD). A link between heterozygous GBAmutations and Parkinson’s disease (PD) has been suggested ( Bembi et al., 2003,Goker-Alpan et al., 2004, Halperin et al., 2006, Machaczka et al., 1999, Neudorfer et al., 1996, Tayebi et al., 2001 and Tayebi et al., 2003). In 2009, a 16-center worldwide analysis of GBA revealed that heterozygous GBA mutation carriers have a strong risk of PD ( Sidransky et al., 2009).

In addition, heterozygote GBA mutations not only carry a risk for PD development but also the possibility of some risk burden on the progression of PD clinical course. In cross-sectional analyses of GBA mutations in PD patients, earlier disease onset, increased cognitive impairment, a greater family history of PD, and more frequent pain were reported in patients with mutations, compared with no mutations ( Chahine et al., 2013,Clark et al., 2007, Gan-Or et al., 2008, Kresojevic et al., 2015, Lwin et al., 2004, Malec-Litwinowicz et al., 2014, Mitsui et al., 2009, Neumann et al., 2009, Nichols et al., 2009,Seto-Salvia et al., 2012, Sidransky et al., 2009, Swan and Saunders-Pullman, 2013 and Wang et al., 2012). Recently, a few prospective studies have investigated clinical features of PD with GBA and showed a more rapid progression of motor impairment and cognitive decline in GBA mutation cases than in PD controls ( Beavan et al., 2015, Brockmann et al., 2015 and Winder-Rhodes et al., 2013). However, in terms of motor complications such as wearing-off and dyskinesia, no studies exist in the longitudinal course of PD with GBA mutations.

Here, we conducted a multicenter retrospective cohort analysis, and the data were investigated by survival time analysis to show the impact of GBA mutations on PD clinical course. We also investigated regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) and cardiac sympathetic nerve degeneration of subjects with GBA mutations, compared with matched PD controls.

3.1. Subjects

Among the 224 eligible PD patients (the subjects were not related to each other), 9 subjects were excluded from the analysis (4 due to multiple system atrophy findings on subsequent brain MRI and 5 because of insufficient clinical information). Therefore, 215 PD patients [female, 52.1%; age, 66.7 ± 10.8 (mean ± standard deviation)] were analyzed. For non-PD healthy controls, 126 patients’ spouses (female, 58.7%; age, 67.3 ± 10.3) without a family history of PD or GD were enrolled.

3.2. GBA mutations and risk ratios for PD

In the PD subjects, we identified 10 nonsynonymous and 2 synonymous GBA variants. Within the nonsynonymous variants, 7 mutations were previously reported in GD [R120W, L444P-A456P-V460 (RecNciI), L444P, D409H, A384D, D380N, and444L(1447-1466 del 20, insTG)] as GD-associated mutations. Three nonsynonymous mutations have never been reported in GD patients [I(-20)V, I489V, and there was one novel mutation (Y11H)].

GD-associated GBA mutations were found in 19 of the 215 (8.8%) PD patients but none in the healthy controls. The risk of PD development relative to these GD-associated mutations was estimated as an OR of 25.1 [95% confidence interval (CI), 1.50–420,p = 0.0001] with 0-cell correction. The nonsynonymous mutations that were not reported in GD patients had no association with PD development (p = 0.506; OR, 1.3; 95% CI, 0.7–2.6) ( Table 1). Four subjects had double mutations. For subsequent analyses, 2 subjects with double mutations of I (-20)V and K466K were adopted to the group of mutations unreported in GD, and 2 subjects with double mutations of R120W and I(-20)V, and of R120W and L336L were adopted to the group of GD-associated mutations.

Table 1.Frequency of glucocerebrosidase gene allele in Parkinson’s disease patients and controls

Allele name PD (n = 215) Controls (n = 126) p Odds ratio (95% CI)
GD-associated mutations
R120W 7a 0 0.050 9.1 (0.5–160.8)
RecNciI (L444P-A456P-V460) 4 0
L444P 4 0
D409H 1 0
A384D 1 0
D380N 1 0
444L(1447-1466 del 20, insTG) 1 0
Subtotal, n (%) 19 (8.8%) 0 (0%) <0.001 25.1 (1.5–419.8)b
Nonsynonymous mutations not reported in GD
I(-20)V 27a 13 0.603 1.3 (0.6–2.5)
I489V 3 0
Y11Hc 0 1
Subtotal, n (%) 30 (14.0%) 14 (11.1%) 0.506 1.3 (0.7–2.6)
Synonymous, n
K466K 2a 1
L336L 1a 0
Allele names refer to the processed protein (excluding the 39-residue signal peptide).

Key: CI, confidence interval; GD, Gaucher disease; PD, Parkinson’s disease.

a Four subjects had double mutations; 2 of I(-20)V and K466K, 1 of I(-20)V and R120W, and 1 of R120W and L336L.
b Odds ratio was calculated by adding 0.5 to each value.
c Novel mutation.
3.3. Clinical features of PD patients by GBA mutation groups

The clinical features of PD patients with GD-associated mutations, those with mutations unreported in GD, and those without mutations are shown in Table 2. In the GD-associated mutation group, females, those with a family history and those with dementia (DSM IV) were significantly more frequent than those in the no-mutation group (p = 0.047, 0.012, and 0.020, respectively). The age of PD onset was lower in patients with GD-associated mutations (55.2 ± 9.9 years ± standard deviation), compared with those without mutations (59.3 ± 11.5), although the statistical difference was not significant. There were no differences in clinical manifestations between subjects with mutations unreported in GD and those without mutations, except for dopamine agonist dosage (p = 0.026) ( Table 2).

Table 2.Epidemiological and clinical features of PD patients with Gaucher disease–associated GBA mutations, those with mutations previously unreported in GD and those without mutations

Variables Total n = 215 Mutation (-) GD-associated mutations

Mutations unreported in GD

167 19a pb 29c pd
Sex Female, n (%) 83 (49.7) 14 (73.7) 0.047 15 (51.7) ns
Age Mean (SD) 67.0 (10.8) 62.2 (10.7) 0.063e 67.5 (11.2) nsf
Disease duration (y) Mean (SD) 7.7 (5.5) 6.9 (4.6) nsf 7.2 (4.9) nsf
Onset age Mean (SD) 59.3 (11.5) 55.2 (9.9) ns 60.3 (11.8) ns
Family history Yes, n (%) 17 (11.0)g 6 (31.6) 0.012 0 (0.0) ns
Dementia (DSM-IV) Yes, n (%) 29 (17.4) 9 (47.4) 0.020 5 (17.2) ns
MMSE Mean (SD) 25.8 (5.4)h 23.3 (7.7) nsf 27.0 (3.4)i nsf
Onset symptom (tremor vs. others) Tremor, n (%) 78 (46.8) 9 (47.4) ns 15 (51.7) ns
Modified H-Y on (<3 vs. ≥3) ≥3, n (%) 82 (49.1) 14 (73.7) 0.042 16 (55.2) ns
UPDRS part 3 Mean (SD) 23.6 (12.2)j 28.5 (13.8) nsf 21.9 (8.7) nsf
Wearing off Yes, n (%) 70 (41.9) 9 (47.4) ns 13 (44.8) ns
Dyskinesia Yes, n (%) 49 (29.3) 8 (42.1) ns 8 (27.6) ns
Mood disorder Yes, n (%) 43 (25.7) 8 (42.1) ns 7 (24.1) ns
Orthostatic hypotension symptom Yes, n (%) 21 (12.6) 5 (26.3) ns 7 (24.1) ns
Psychosis history Yes, n (%) 59 (35.3) 10 (52.6) ns 7 (24.1) ns
ICD history Yes, n (%) 8 (4.8) 1 (5.3) ns 1 (3.4) ns
Stereotactic brain surgery for PD Yes, n (%) 4 (2.4) 0 (0.0) ns 0 (0.0) ns
Agonist LED mg/d Mean (SD) 92.8 (114.2) 72.1 (137.7) nse 163.7 (155.6) 0.026e
Levodopa LED mg/d Mean (SD) 400.7 (184.2) 456.7 (206.9) nsf 369.2 (230.3) nse
Total LED mg/d Mean (SD) 496.4 (233.7) 537.9 (258.9) nsf 525.7 (287.4) nsf
Categorical data were examined by Fisher’s exact test.

Key: DSM-IV, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition; GBA, glucocerebrosidase gene; GD, Gaucher disease; H-Y, Hoehn and Yahr; ICD, impulse control disorder; LED, levodopa equivalent dose; ns, not significant; MMSE, Mini-Mental State Examination; PD, Parkinson’s disease; SD, standard deviation; UPDRS, Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale.

a Including a double-mutation subject (with a mutation unreported in GD).
b GD-associated mutations versus mutation (-).
c Two subjects with double mutation, including GD-associated mutations, were assigned to GD-associated mutation group.
d Other mutations versus mutation (-).
e Examined by Student t test after Levene’s test for equality of variances.
f Examined by Mann-Whitney U-test because of non-Gaussian distribution.
g    n = 155 due to 10 missing data.
h    n = 164 due to 3 missing data.
i     n = 28 due to 1 missing datum.
j     n = 165 due to 2 missing data.

### 3.4. Survival time analyses to develop dementia, psychosis, dyskinesia, and wearing-off

Time to develop clinical outcomes (dementia, psychosis, dyskinesia, and wearing-off) was compared in 19 subjects with GD-associated mutations, 29 with mutations unreported in GD, and 167 without mutation. The median observation time was 6.0 years. The subjects with GD-associated mutations showed a significantly earlier development of dementia and psychosis, compared with subjects without mutation (p < 0.001 and p = 0.017) ( Supplementary Table e-1, Fig. 1A and B). We rereviewed the clinical record of the subject who showed early dementia (defined by DSM IV) ( Fig. 1A) and made sure it did not satisfy the criteria of DLB ( McKeith et al., 2005).

The associations of GBA mutations and these symptoms were estimated as HRs, adjusting for sex and age at PD onset. HRs were 8.3 for dementia (95% CI, 3.3–20.9; p < 0.001) and 3.1 for psychosis (95% CI, 1.5–6.4; p = 0.002). The time until development of wearing-off and dyskinesia complications was not statistically significant, with HRs of 1.5 (95% CI, 0.8–3.1; p = 0.219) and 1.9 (95% CI, 0.9–4.1; p = 0.086) ( Table 3).

Table 3.Hazard ratios of GBA pathogenic mutations for clinical symptoms

Model Clinical feature Hazard ratio 95% CI p
1 Dementia (DSM-IV) 8.3 3.3–20.9 <0.001
2 Psychosis 3.1 1.5–6.4 0.002
3 Wearing-off 1.5 0.8–3.1 0.219
4 Dyskinesia 1.9 0.9–4.1 0.086
Each model was adjusted for sex and age at onset.

Key: CI, confidence interval; DSM-IV; The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders part 1IV; GBA, glucocerebrosidase.

Subjects with mutations unreported in GD did not show significant differences in time to develop all 4 outcomes, compared with no mutation subjects. Therefore, subjects with GD-unreported mutations were regarded as subjects without GBA mutations in further analyses.

3.5. rCBF on SPECT in patients with GD-associated GBA mutations

We conducted pixel-by-pixel comparisons of rCBF on SPECT between PD subjects with mutations (cases) and sex-, age-, and disease duration-matched PD subjects without any mutations in GBA (controls). Four controls were adopted for each case (except for a 34-year-old female case who was matched to a control), and in total 12 cases (female 50%, age at SPECT mean ± standard error (SE); 58.9 ± 3.3 years, disease duration at SPECT 7.3 ± 1.5 years) and 45 controls (female 64.4%, age at SPECT mean ± SE; 61.0 ± 1.3 years, disease duration at SPECT 7.1 ± 0.7 years) were analyzed. As a result, a significantly lower rCBF was seen in the cases compared to the controls in the bilateral parietal cortex, including the precuneus ( Fig. 2).

3.6. H/M ratios on MIBG scintigraphy in patients with GD-associated GBA mutations

Cardiac MIBG scintigraphy visualizes catecholaminergic terminals in vivo that are reduced as well as brain dopaminergic neurons in PD patients. We also investigated MIBG scintigraphy between 16 cases (female 68.8%, age at examination mean ± SE; 60.2 ± 2.6 years, disease duration at examination 6.2 ± 1.2 years) and sex-, age- and disease duration-matched 61 controls [(63.8 %, age 62.0 ± 1.1 years, disease duration 5.5 ± 0.6 years) (1:4 except for 1 young 34-year-old female case who was matched to a control)]. In the results, both early and late H/M ratios declined in both groups and did not show any significant differences (p = 0.309 and 0.244) ( Supplementary Table e-2).

4. Discussion

4.1. Contributions of GD-associated GBA mutations to the development of PD

In the analysis of 215 PD patients and 126 non-PD controls, we identified 10 nonsynonymous heterozygous GBA mutations, including 1 novel mutation. Among these mutations, 7 were GD-associated, and the patients carrying these mutations represented 8.8% of the PD cohort. No significant association was found between the GD-unreported mutations and PD development, which suggests that only the GD-associated mutations are a genetic risk for PD. According to a worldwide multicenter analysis of 1883 fully sequenced PD patients, 7% of the GD-associated mutations are found in non-Ashkenazi Jewish PD patients ( Sidransky et al., 2009). Although the mutation frequency in the present study was similar to previous results, the OR of GD-associated heterozygous mutations (25.1) was significantly greater than the OR (5.43) of other ethnic cohorts (Sidransky et al., 2009) and was consistent with an OR of 28.0 from a previous Japanese report ( Mitsui et al., 2009). These results, taken together, suggest the possibility thatGBA mutations are at a distinct risk for PD in the Japanese population. However, a larger Japanese cohort study is required to confirm this.

4.2. Cross-sectional clinical figures of PD with GBA mutations

Before the survival time analyses, we investigated clinical features at enrollment between mutation groups. The lower onset age, more frequent family history and dementia, and worse disease severity of PD in patients with GBA mutations, compared with those without mutations, were consistent with previous cross-sectional case-control reports ( Anheim et al., 2012, Brockmann et al., 2011, Chahine et al., 2013, Lesage et al., 2011, Li et al., 2013, Mitsui et al., 2009, Neumann et al., 2009, Seto-Salvia et al., 2012 and Sidransky et al., 2009). In contrast, female-predominance (73.7%, p = 0.047) in patients with mutations observed in the present study is inconsistent ( Neumann et al., 2009 and Seto-Salvia et al., 2012).

4.3. Impact of GBA mutations on the clinical course of PD

To investigate the impact of GBA mutations on the clinical course of PD, a prospective-designed study over a long period is preferred. Although there has been a few longitudinally designed study to date, follow-up clinical data for a median of 6 years of 121 PD cases from a community-based incident cohort was recently reanalyzed; results demonstrate that progression to dementia defined by DSM IV (HR 5.7) and Hoehn and Yahr stage 3 (HR 3.2) are significantly earlier in 4 GBA mutation-carrier patients compared with 117 patients with wild-type GBA ( Winder-Rhodes et al., 2013). A 2-year follow-up clinical report of 28 heterozygous GBA carriers who were recruited from relatives of GD-patients shows slight but significant deterioration of cognition and smelling, compared to healthy controls ( Beavan et al., 2015). Brockmann et al. (2015)assessed motor and nonmotor symptoms including cognitive and mood disturbances for 3 years in 20 PD patients with GBA mutations and showed a more rapid disease progression of motor impairment and cognitive decline in GBA mutation cases comparing to sporadic PD controls. The current long-term retrospective cohort study up to 12 years reinforced these results. It revealed that dementia and psychosis developed significantly earlier in subjects with GD-associated mutations compared with those without mutation, and the HRs of GBA mutations were estimated at 8.3 for dementia and 23.1 for psychosis, with adjustments for sex and PD onset age. In contrast, the results showed no significant difference in developing wearing-off and dyskinesia.

In this study, we also investigated whether GD-unreported mutations affected the clinical course of PD. In both cross-sectional and survival time analyses, the mutations unreported in GD carried no increased burden on clinical symptoms such as dementia, psychosis, wearing-off, and dyskinesia.

4.4. Reduced rCBF in PD with GBA mutations compared with matched PD controls

We found a significantly decreased rCBF, reflecting decreased synaptic activity, in the bilateral parietal cortex including the precuneus, in subjects with GD-associated mutations compared with matched subjects without mutations. The pattern of reduced rCBF was very similar to the pattern of H215O positron-emission tomography that Goker-Alpan et.al. (2012) reported, showing decreased resting rCBF in the lateral parietal association cortex and the precuneus bilaterally in GD subjects with parkinsonism (7 subjects with homozygous or compound heterozygous GBA mutations), compared with 11 PD without GBA mutations. Results suggest that PD with heterozygous GBAmutations and GD patients presenting parkinsonism had a common reduced pattern of rCBF. Interestingly, in their study, rCBF in the precuneus—but not in the lateral parietal cortex—correlated with IQ, suggesting that the involvement of the precuneus is critical for defining GBA-associated patterns.

4.5. Reduced cardiac MIBG H/M ratios as well as matched PD controls

We also showed that cardiac MIBG H/M ratios in subjects with GD-associated mutations were lower than the cutoff point for PD discrimination (Sawada et al., 2009), suggesting that postganglionic sympathetic nerve terminals to the epicardium were denervated, as well as in PD without mutations.

4.6. Mechanisms of impact on PD clinical course by GD-associated GBA mutations

Experimental studies suggesting a bidirectional pathogenic loop between α-synuclein and glucocerebrosidase have been accumulated (Fishbein et al., 2014, Gegg et al., 2012, Mazzulli et al., 2011, Noelker et al., 2015, Schondorf et al., 2014 and Uemura et al., 2015). Loss of glucocerebrosidase function compromises α-synuclein degradation in lysosome, whereas aggregated α-synuclein inhibits normal lysosomal function of glucocerebrosidase. The pathogenic loop may facilitate neurodegeneration in GD-associated PD brain, resulting in early development of dementia or psychosis as shown in the present study. Several recent researches propose the possibility that the similar mechanism as in PD with GBA mutations exists even in idiopathic PD brain ( Alcalay et al., 2015, Chiasserini et al., 2015, Gegg et al., 2012 and Murphy et al., 2014). On the other hand, the impacts of GD-associated GBA mutations for the development of motor complications such as wearing-off and dyskinesia were not statistically significant, suggesting other pathophysiological mechanisms in the striatal circuit brought out after long-term therapy especially by l-dopa.

4.7. Limitations

Our study has several limitations. In the design of the study, we assumed that the sample size was 215 (PD patients) for survival time analyses and investigated 224 PD patients. We assumed that the mutation prevalence would be 9.4%, and in fact, we found 19 patients with mutations (8.5%) of the 224 patients. Based on these figures, we estimated the risk ratios of heterozygous GBA mutations for the risk of PD development and PD clinical symptoms as ORs in the cross-sectional multivariate analyses, although the 95% CIs were broad. More of subject numbers will be needed to determine robust risk ratios.

Comprehensive Genetic Characterization of a Spanish Brugada Syndrome Cohort

Published: July 14, 2015   DOI: http://dx.doi.org:/10.1371/journal.pone.0132888

Brugada syndrome (BrS) was identified as a new clinical entity in 1992 [1]. Six years later, the first genetic basis for the disease was identified, with the discovery of genetic variations inSCN5A [2]. Nowadays, more than 300 pathogenic variations in this first gene are known to be associated with BrS [3]. SCN5A encodes for the α subunit of the cardiac voltage-dependent sodium channel (Nav1.5), which is responsible for inward sodium current (INa), and thus plays an essential role in phase 0 of the cardiac action potential (AP). Genetic variations in this gene can explain around 20–25% of BrS cases [3].

Since BrS was classified as a genetic disease, several other genes have been described to confer BrS-susceptibility [47]. Pathogenic variations have been mainly described in: 1) genes encoding proteins that modulate Nav1.5 function, and 2) other calcium and potassium channels and their regulatory subunits. All these proteins participate, either directly or indirectly, in the development of the cardiac AP. Although the incidence of pathogenic variations in these BrS-associated genes is low [6], it is considered that, among all of them, they could provide a genetic diagnosis for up to an extra 5–10% of BrS cases. Hence, altogether, a genetic diagnosis can be achieved approximately in 35% of clinically diagnosed BrS patients.
Other types of genetic abnormalities have been suggested to explain the remaining percentage of undiagnosed patients. Indeed, multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification (MLPA) has allowed the detection of large-scale gene rearrangements involving one or several exons ofSCN5A in BrS cases. However, the low proportion of BrS patients carrying large genetic imbalances identified to date suggests that this type of rearrangements will provide a genetic diagnosis for a modest percentage of BrS cases [810].
BrS has been associated with an increased risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD), despite the reported variability in disease penetrance and expressivity [11]. The prevalence of BrS is estimated at about 1.34 cases per 100 000 individuals per year, with a higher incidence in Asia than in the United States and Europe [12]. However, the dynamic nature of the typical electrocardiogram (ECG) and the fact that it is often concealed, hinder the diagnosis of BrS. Therefore, an exhaustive genetic testing and subsequent family screening may prove to be crucial in identifying silent carriers. A large percentage of these pathogenic variation carriers are clinically asymptomatic, and may be at risk of SCD, which is, sometimes, the first manifestation of the disease [13].
In the present work, we aimed to determine the spectrum and prevalence of genetic variations in BrS-susceptibility genes in a Spanish cohort diagnosed with BrS, and to identify variation carriers among relatives, which would enable the adoption of preventive measures to avoid SCD in their families.

Results
Study population

### Sequencing of genes associated with BrS

We performed a genetic screening of 14 genes (SCN5A, CACNA1C, CACNB2, GPD1L,SCN1B, SCN2B, SCN3B, SCN4B, KCNE3, RANGRF, HCN4, KCNJ8, KCND3, and KCNE1L), which allowed the identification of 61 genetic variations in our cohort. Of these, 20 were classified as potentially pathogenic variations (PPVs), one variation of unknown significance, and 40 common or synonymous variants considered benign.

The 20 PPVs were found in 18 of the 55 patients (32.7% of the patients, 83.3% males; Table 2). Sixteen patients (88.9%) carried one PPV, and two patients (11.1%) carried two different PPVs each. Nineteen out of the 20 PPVs identified were localized in SCN5A and one in SCN2B.

The vast majority of the PPVs identified were missense (70%). We also detected 2 nonsense variations (10%), 3 insertions or deletions causing frameshifts (15%), and one splicing variation (5%). The three frameshifts (p.R569Pfs*151, p.E625Rfs*95 and p.R1623Efs*7) were identified in SCN5A. These were not found in any of the databases consulted (see Methods), and were thus considered potentially pathogenic (see below). The other 16 rare variations identified inSCN5A had been previously described, and hence were also considered potentially pathogenic. Fourteen of them had been identified in BrS patients. Of these, 6 had also been identified in individuals diagnosed with other cardiac electric diseases (i.e. Sick Sinus Syndrome, Long QT Syndrome, Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome or Idiopathic Ventricular Fibrillation [2,15,16,20,21,25]). The other 2, p.P1725L and p.R1898C, had only been associated with Long QT Syndrome or found in Exome Variant Server with a MAF of 0.0079%, respectively. Furthermore, we identified a variation in SCN2B (c.632A>G in exon 4 of the gene, resulting in p.D211G) which was considered pathogenic. This patient was included within our cohort, but the functional characterization of channels expressing SCN2B p.D211G was object of a previous study from our group [7]. We also identified a nonsense variation in RANGRFwhich has been formerly reported as rare genetic variation of unknown significance [29].

Additionally, we screened the relatives of those probands carrying a PPV. We analysed a total of 129 relatives, 69 of which (53.5%) were variation carriers. Genotype-phenotype correlations evidenced that 8 of the families displayed complete penetrance (S3 Table). Additionally, no relatives were available for one of the probands carrying a PPV, thus hampering genotype-phenotype correlation assessment. The other 12 families showed incomplete penetrance.

MLPA analysis

The 37 patients with negative results after the genetic screening of the 14 BrS-associated genes underwent MLPA analyses of SCN5A. This technique did not reveal any large exon deletion or duplication in this gene for any of the patients.

SCN5A p.R569Pfs*151 (c.1705dupC), a novel PPV

A 41-year-old asymptomatic male presented a type 3 BrS ECG which was suggestive of BrS. Flecainide challenge unmasked a type 1 BrS ECG (Fig 1A, left), which was also spontaneously observed sometimes during medical follow up. Sequencing of SCN5A revealed a duplication of a cytosine at position 1705 (c.1705dupC; Fig 1A, right), which originated a frameshift that lead to a truncated Nav1.5 channel (p.R569Pfs*151). The proband’s sister also carried this duplication, but had never presented signs of arrhythmogenesis. The proband’s twin daughters were also variation carriers, displayed normal ECGs and, to date, are asymptomatic (Fig 1A, middle). Thus, p.R569Pfs*151 represents a novel genetic alteration in the Nav1.5 channel that could potentially lead to BrS, but with incomplete penetrance.

SCN5A p.E625Rfs*95 (c.1872dupA), a novel PPV

A 51-year-old asymptomatic male was diagnosed with BrS since he presented a spontaneous ST segment elevation in leads V1 and V2 characteristic of type 1 BrS ECG (Fig 1B, left). The sequencing of SCN5A evidenced an adenine duplication at position 1872 (c.1872dupA, Fig 1B, right). This genetic variation results in a truncated Nav1.5 channel (p.E625Rfs*95). The genetic analysis of the proband’s relatives proved that only her mother carried the variation (Fig 1B, middle). She was asymptomatic, but a BrS ECG was unmasked upon ajmaline challenge. The proband’s sister was found dead in her crib at 6 months of age, which suggests that her death might be compatible with BrS. Therefore, the p.E625Rfs*95 variation in the Nav1.5 channel represents a novel genetic alteration potentially causing BrS.

SCN5A p.R1623Efs*7 (c.4867delC), a novel PPV

The proband, a 31-year-old male, was admitted to hospital after suffering a syncope. His baseline 12-lead ECG showed a ST segment elevation in leads V1 and V2 that strongly suggested BrS type 1 (Fig 1C, left). A deletion of the cytosine at position 4867 (c.4867delC) was observed upon SCN5A sequencing (Fig 1C, right). This base deletion leads to a frameshift that originates a truncated Nav1.5 channel (p.R1623Efs*7). Genetic screening of his parents and sisters evidenced that none of them carried this novel variation (Fig 1C, middle). None of them had presented any signs of arrhythmogenicity, nor had a BrS ECG. Nevertheless, in uterogenetic analysis of one of his daughters proved that she had inherited the variation. She died when she was 1 year of age of non-arrhythmogenic causes. Hence, the p.R1623Efs*7 variation in the Nav1.5 channel is a novel genetic alteration originated de novo in the proband that could potentially lead to BrS.

Synonymous and common genetic variations portrayal

In our cohort, we identified 40 single nucleotide variations which were common genetic variants and/or synonymous variants (S2 Table). Twenty-nine had a minor allele frequency (MAF) over 1%, and were thus considered common genetic variants.

We also identified 11 variants with MAF less than 1%. Of them, 9 were synonymous variants, what made us assume that they were not disease-causing. Four of these synonymous variants were not found in any of the databases consulted, and thus their MAF was considered to be less than 1%. Each of these synonymous variations was identified in 1 patient of the cohort. A similar proportion of individuals carrying these novel variations was detected upon sequencing of 300 healthy Spanish individuals (600 alleles). The remaining 2 variants were missense, and although they had either a MAF of less than 1% or an unknown MAF according to the Exome Variant Server and dbSNP websites, they were common in our cohort (29.2 and 50%, respectively; S2 Table), and a similar MAF was detected in a Spanish cohort of healthy individuals (26.7% and 48.8%, respectively).

Influence of phenotype and age on PPV discovery

To assess if a connection existed between the probands’ phenotype and the PPV detection yield, we classified the patients in our cohort according to their ECG (spontaneous or induced type 1), the presence of BrS cases within their families, and the presence/absence of symptoms. Even though the overall PPV detection yield was 32.7%, it was even higher for symptomatic patients (Fig 2). Indeed, in this group of patients, having a family history of BrS was identified as a factor for increased PPV discovery yield. In the case of absence of BrS in the family, the variation discovery yield was almost double for those patients having a spontaneous type 1 BrS ECG than for patients with drug-induced type 1 ECG (45.5% vs 25%, respectively). In addition, we identified a PPV in 44.4% of the asymptomatic patients who presented family history of BrS and a spontaneous type 1 BrS ECG. When the patient presented drug-induced type 1 ECG or in the absence of family history of BrS, the PPV discovery yield was of around 15%.

We also investigated the role of age on the PPV occurrence. No significant age differences were observed between variation carriers and non-carriers (38.6±10.3 and 43.5±14.4, respectively, p = 0.16). However, the PPV discovery yield was higher for patients with ages between 30 and 50 years: out of the total of patients carrying a PPV, 83.3% of the patients were in this age range, while 11.1% were younger and 5.6% were older patients (Fig 3A, upper panel). The PPV discovery yield was significantly higher for symptomatic than for asymptomatic patients (42.3% vs 24.1%, respectively; Fig 3A, lower panels).

Noteworthy, in the 30–50 age range, 52.9% (9/17) of the symptomatic patients and 35.3% (6/17) of asymptomatic patients carried one PPV (Fig 3B, middle). Additionally, 40% (2/5) of the symptomatic young patients (< 30 years) were variation carriers, while no PPVs were identified in asymptomatic patients within this age range.

Overall, 55 unrelated Spanish patients clinically diagnosed with BrS were included in our study.Table 1 shows the demographics of this cohort, and Table 2 and S1 Table show the clinical and genetic characteristics of all the patients included in the study. The mean age at clinical diagnosis was of 41.9±13.3 years. Although the majority of patients were males (74.5%), their age at diagnosis was not different than that of females (41.8±12.1 years and 42.3±16.3 years, respectively; p = 0.92). A type 1 BrS ECG was present spontaneously in 37 patients (67.3%), and drug challenge revealed a type 1 BrS ECG for the remaining 18 patients (32.7%). Almost half of the patients had experienced symptoms, including 2 SCD and 4 aborted SCD. Patients who had not previously experienced any signs of arrhythmogenicity despite having a BrS ECG were considered asymptomatic. Comparison of symptomatic vs asymptomatic patients evidenced a similar percentage of males (73.1% and 75.9%, respectively). However, the mean age at diagnosis was different between the two groups of patients (37.7±14.3 and 45.7±11.4, respectively; p<0.05).

Discussion

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive genetic evaluation of 14 BrS-susceptibility genes and MLPA of SCN5A in a Spanish cohort. Well delimited BrS cohorts from Japan, China, Greece and even Spain have been genetically studied [24,3032]. Additionally, an international compendium of BrS genetic variations identified in more than 2100 unrelated patients from different countries was published in 2010 [3]. However, all these studies screenedSCN5A exclusively. In 2012, Crotti et al. reported the spectrum and prevalence of genetic variations in 12 BrS-susceptibility genes in a BrS cohort [5]. However, this study included patients of different ethnicity. Here, we report the analysis of 14 genes which has been conducted on a well-defined BrS cohort of the same ethnicity.

Our results confirm that SCN5A is still the most prevalent gene associated with BrS. Indeed,SCN5A-mediated BrS in our cohort (30.9%) is higher than the proportion described in other European reports [3,23], where a potentially causative variation is identified in only 20–25% of BrS patients. The reason for this discrepancy is unclear but could point towards a higher prevalence of SCN5A PPVs in the Spanish population or to selection bias. Additionally, we identified a genetic variation in SCN2B (c.632A>G, which results in p.D211G). We have formerly published the comprehensive electrophysiological characterization of this variation, and showed that indeed this variation could be responsible of the phenotype of the patient, thus linking SCN2B with BrS for the first time [7]. Also, we identified a variation in RANGRF. This variation (c.181G>T leading to p.E61X) had been previously reported in a Danish atrial fibrillation cohort [33]. Surprisingly, the authors reported an incidence of 0.4% for this variation in the healthy Danish population, which brought into question its pathogenicity. Our finding of this variation in an asymptomatic patient displaying a type 2 BrS ECG also points toward considering it as a rare genetic variation with a potential modifier effect on the phenotype but not clearly responsible for the disease [29].

No PPVs were identified in the other genes tested. Certainly, it is well accepted that the contribution of these genes to the disease is minor, and thus should only be considered under special circumstances [13,34]. In addition, recent studies have questioned the causality of variations identified in some of these minority genes [35].

We also used the MLPA technique for the detection of large exon duplications and/or deletions in SCN5A in patients without PPVs, and no large rearrangements were identified. This is in accordance with previous reports, which revealed that such imbalances are uncommon [810].

Kapplinger et al. [3] reported a predominance of PPVs in transmembrane regions of Nav1.5. Indeed, it has been proposed that most rare genetic variations in interdomain linkers may be considered as non-pathogenic [36]. In contrast, PPVs identified in this study are mainly located in extracellular loops and cytosolic linker regions of Nav1.5 (Fig 4). Additionally, 2 of our non-previously reported frameshifts are located in the DI-DII linker. These 2 genetic variations lead to truncated proteins, which would lack around 75% of the protein sequence, and thus are presupposed to be pathogenic.

In our cohort, we have identified 40 synonymous or common genetic variations, 4 of which have not been previously reported. These variations are gradually becoming more and more important in the explanation of certain phenotypes of genetic diseases. Only a few common variations identified here are already published as phenotypic modifiers [37,38]. The effect of these and other common variants identified in our cohort on BrS phenotype should be further studied.

Unexpectedly, almost 40% (7/18) of the PPV carriers did not present signs of arrhythmogenicity. We also performed genotype-phenotype correlations of the PPVs identified in the families (S3 Table). These studies uncovered relatives, most of whom were young individuals, who carried a familial variation but had never exhibited any clinical manifestations of the disease. This is in agreement with Crotti et al. and Priori et al. [5,23], who postulated that a positive genetic testing result is not always associated with the presence of symptoms. Indeed, the existence of asymptomatic patients carrying genetic variations described to cause a severe Nav1.5 channel dysfunction has been reported [39]. The identification of silent carriers is of paramount importance since it allows the adoption of preventive measures before any lethal episode takes place. Unknown environmental factors, medication and modifier genes have been suggested to influence and/or predispose to arrhythmogenesis [11]. Hence, this group of patients has to be cautiously followed in order to avoid fatal events.

Our studies on the connection between patients’ phenotype and the PPV detection yield highlighted the presence of symptoms as a factor for an increased variation discovery yield. Within the group of symptomatic individuals, a PPV was identified in a higher proportion of patients displaying a spontaneous type 1 BrS ECG than for patients showing a drug-induced ECG. Likewise, within the asymptomatic patients with family history of BrS, those who presented spontaneous type 1 BrS ECG carried a PPV more often than those with a drug-induced ECG (Fig 2). Referring to age, the vast majority (17/20, 85%) of the PPVs were identified in patients around their fourth decade of age (30–50 years). This is in accordance with the accepted mean age of disease manifestation. Moreover, in this age range, more than 50% of the patients who presented symptoms carried a variation that could be pathogenic (Fig 3). Importantly, 35.3% of asymptomatic patients of around 40 years of age also carried one of such variations. These data highlight the importance of performing a genetic test even in the absence of clinical manifestations of the disease, and particularly when in the 30–50 years range, which is in accordance with consensus recommendations [13,34].

In conclusion, we have analysed for the first time 14 BrS-susceptibility genes and performed MLPA of SCN5A in a Spanish BrS cohort. Our cohort showed male prevalence with a mean age of disease manifestation around 40 years. BrS in this cohort was almost exclusivelySCN5A-mediated. The mean PPV discovery yield in our Spanish BrS patients is higher than that described for other BrS cohorts (32.7% vs 20–25%, respectively), and is even higher for patients in the 30–50 years age range (up to 53% for symptomatic patients). All these evidences support the genetic testing, at least of SCN5A, in all clinically well diagnosed BrS patients.

Study Limitations

First of all, drug challenge tests were not performed for all the relatives who were asymptomatic variation carriers. This fact hampered their clinical diagnosis and represents an impediment to definitely assess the link between PPVs and BrS. These patients are nowadays under follow-up.

New PPVs have been identified in our cohort. The clinical information available for the families suggests that these new variations could be pathogenic. Still, in vitro studies of these variations are required in order to evaluate their functional effects and verify their pathogenic role. Additionally, genotyping in an independent cohort would help reduce the likelihood of type I (false positive) error in genetic variant discovery.

We have to acknowledge that the study set is relatively small. Consequently, the classification of patients according to the different clinical categories rendered rather small sub-groups, which may lead to over-interpretation of the results. Future studies will be directed to the genetic screening of additional Spanish BrS patients, which will probably reinforce the significance of the tendencies observed here.