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Concept: Mutation


Background Child-parent screening for familial hypercholesterolemia has been proposed to identify persons at high risk for inherited premature cardiovascular disease. We assessed the efficacy and feasibility of such screening in primary care practice. Methods We obtained capillary blood samples to measure cholesterol levels and to test for familial hypercholesterolemia mutations in 10,095 children 1 to 2 years of age during routine immunization visits. Children were considered to have positive screening results for familial hypercholesterolemia if their cholesterol level was elevated and they had either a familial hypercholesterolemia mutation or a repeat elevated cholesterol level 3 months later. A parent of each child with a positive screening result for familial hypercholesterolemia was considered to have a positive screening result for familial hypercholesterolemia if he or she had the same mutation as the child or, if no mutations were identified, had the higher cholesterol level of the two parents. Results The use of a prespecified cholesterol cutoff value of 1.53 multiples of the median (MoM, corresponding to a percentile of 99.2) identified 28 children who had positive screening results for familial hypercholesterolemia (0.3% of the 10,095 children; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.2 to 0.4), including 20 with a familial hypercholesterolemia mutation and 8 with a repeat cholesterol level of at least 1.53 MoM. A total of 17 children who had a cholesterol level of less than 1.53 MoM also had a familial hypercholesterolemia mutation. The overall mutation prevalence was 1 in 273 children (37 in 10,095; 95% CI, 1 in 198 to 1 in 388). The use of an initial cholesterol cutoff value of 1.35 MoM (95th percentile) plus a mutation, or two cholesterol values of at least 1.50 MoM (99th percentile), identified 40 children who had positive screening results for familial hypercholesterolemia (0.4% of the 10,095 children, including 32 children who had a familial hypercholesterolemia mutation and 8 who did not have the mutation) and 40 parents who had positive screening results for familial hypercholesterolemia. Conclusions Child-parent screening was feasible in primary care practices at routine child immunization visits. For every 1000 children screened, 8 persons (4 children and 4 parents) were identified as having positive screening results for familial hypercholesterolemia and were consequently at high risk for cardiovascular disease. (Funded by the Medical Research Council.).

Concepts: Immune system, Cancer, Genetic disorder, Mutation, Atherosclerosis, Median, Mother, Hypercholesterolemia


A recent slew of ENCODE Consortium publications, specifically the article signed by all Consortium members, put forward the idea that more than 80% of the human genome is functional. This claim flies in the face of current estimates according to which the fraction of the genome that is evolutionarily conserved through purifying selection is under 10%. Thus, according to the ENCODE Consortium, a biological function can be maintained indefinitely without selection, which implies that at least 80 - 10 = 70% of the genome is perfectly invulnerable to deleterious mutations, either because no mutation can ever occur in these “functional” regions, or because no mutation in these regions can ever be deleterious. This absurd conclusion was reached through various means, chiefly (1) by employing the seldom used “causal role” definition of biological function and then applying it inconsistently to different biochemical properties, (2) by committing a logical fallacy known as “affirming the consequent,” (3) by failing to appreciate the crucial difference between “junk DNA” and “garbage DNA,” (4) by using analytical methods that yield biased errors and inflate estimates of functionality, (5) by favoring statistical sensitivity over specificity, and (6) by emphasizing statistical significance rather than the magnitude of the effect. Here, we detail the many logical and methodological transgressions involved in assigning functionality to almost every nucleotide in the human genome. The ENCODE results were predicted by one of its authors to necessitate the rewriting of textbooks. We agree, many textbooks dealing with marketing, mass-media hype, and public relations may well have to be rewritten.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Natural selection, Human genome, Human Genome Project, Junk DNA


A CAPN1 missense mutation in Parson Russell Terrier dogs is associated with spinocerebellar ataxia. We now report that homozygous or heterozygous CAPN1-null mutations in humans result in cerebellar ataxia and limb spasticity in four independent pedigrees. Calpain-1 knockout (KO) mice also exhibit a mild form of ataxia due to abnormal cerebellar development, including enhanced neuronal apoptosis, decreased number of cerebellar granule cells, and altered synaptic transmission. Enhanced apoptosis is due to absence of calpain-1-mediated cleavage of PH domain and leucine-rich repeat protein phosphatase 1 (PHLPP1), which results in inhibition of the Akt pro-survival pathway in developing granule cells. Injection of neonatal mice with the indirect Akt activator, bisperoxovanadium, or crossing calpain-1 KO mice with PHLPP1 KO mice prevented increased postnatal cerebellar granule cell apoptosis and restored granule cell density and motor coordination in adult mice. Thus, mutations in CAPN1 are an additional cause of ataxia in mammals, including humans.

Concepts: DNA, Neuron, Mutation, Enzyme, Cerebellum, Granule cell, Point mutation, Jack Russell Terrier


Cas9 cleaves specific DNA sequences with the assistance of a programmable single guide RNA (sgRNA). Repairing this broken DNA by the cell’s error-prone non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) machinery leads to insertions and deletions (indels) that often impair DNA function. Using HIV-1, we have now demonstrated that many of these indels are indeed lethal for the virus, but that others lead to the emergence of replication competent viruses that are resistant to Cas9/sgRNA. This unexpected contribution of Cas9 to the development of viral resistance is facilitated by some indels that are not deleterious for viral replication, but that are refractory to recognition by the same sgRNA as a result of changing the target DNA sequences. This observation illustrates two opposite outcomes of Cas9/sgRNA action, i.e., inactivation of HIV-1 and acceleration of viral escape, thereby potentially limiting the use of Cas9/sgRNA in HIV-1 therapy.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Virus, Genome, RNA, DNA repair


Background The prevalence and spectrum of predisposing mutations among children and adolescents with cancer are largely unknown. Knowledge of such mutations may improve the understanding of tumorigenesis, direct patient care, and enable genetic counseling of patients and families. Methods In 1120 patients younger than 20 years of age, we sequenced the whole genomes (in 595 patients), whole exomes (in 456), or both (in 69). We analyzed the DNA sequences of 565 genes, including 60 that have been associated with autosomal dominant cancer-predisposition syndromes, for the presence of germline mutations. The pathogenicity of the mutations was determined by a panel of medical experts with the use of cancer-specific and locus-specific genetic databases, the medical literature, computational predictions, and second hits identified in the tumor genome. The same approach was used to analyze data from 966 persons who did not have known cancer in the 1000 Genomes Project, and a similar approach was used to analyze data from an autism study (from 515 persons with autism and 208 persons without autism). Results Mutations that were deemed to be pathogenic or probably pathogenic were identified in 95 patients with cancer (8.5%), as compared with 1.1% of the persons in the 1000 Genomes Project and 0.6% of the participants in the autism study. The most commonly mutated genes in the affected patients were TP53 (in 50 patients), APC (in 6), BRCA2 (in 6), NF1 (in 4), PMS2 (in 4), RB1 (in 3), and RUNX1 (in 3). A total of 18 additional patients had protein-truncating mutations in tumor-suppressor genes. Of the 58 patients with a predisposing mutation and available information on family history, 23 (40%) had a family history of cancer. Conclusions Germline mutations in cancer-predisposing genes were identified in 8.5% of the children and adolescents with cancer. Family history did not predict the presence of an underlying predisposition syndrome in most patients. (Funded by the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities and the National Cancer Institute.).

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Cancer, Mutation, Germline mutation, Evolution, Genome, DNA repair


Background Somatic mutations have the potential to encode “non-self” immunogenic antigens. We hypothesized that tumors with a large number of somatic mutations due to mismatch-repair defects may be susceptible to immune checkpoint blockade. Methods We conducted a phase 2 study to evaluate the clinical activity of pembrolizumab, an anti-programmed death 1 immune checkpoint inhibitor, in 41 patients with progressive metastatic carcinoma with or without mismatch-repair deficiency. Pembrolizumab was administered intravenously at a dose of 10 mg per kilogram of body weight every 14 days in patients with mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancers, patients with mismatch repair-proficient colorectal cancers, and patients with mismatch repair-deficient cancers that were not colorectal. The coprimary end points were the immune-related objective response rate and the 20-week immune-related progression-free survival rate. Results The immune-related objective response rate and immune-related progression-free survival rate were 40% (4 of 10 patients) and 78% (7 of 9 patients), respectively, for mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancers and 0% (0 of 18 patients) and 11% (2 of 18 patients) for mismatch repair-proficient colorectal cancers. The median progression-free survival and overall survival were not reached in the cohort with mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancer but were 2.2 and 5.0 months, respectively, in the cohort with mismatch repair-proficient colorectal cancer (hazard ratio for disease progression or death, 0.10 [P<0.001], and hazard ratio for death, 0.22 [P=0.05]). Patients with mismatch repair-deficient noncolorectal cancer had responses similar to those of patients with mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancer (immune-related objective response rate, 71% [5 of 7 patients]; immune-related progression-free survival rate, 67% [4 of 6 patients]). Whole-exome sequencing revealed a mean of 1782 somatic mutations per tumor in mismatch repair-deficient tumors, as compared with 73 in mismatch repair-proficient tumors (P=0.007), and high somatic mutation loads were associated with prolonged progression-free survival (P=0.02). Conclusions This study showed that mismatch-repair status predicted clinical benefit of immune checkpoint blockade with pembrolizumab. (Funded by Johns Hopkins University and others; number, NCT01876511 .).

Concepts: Immune system, Cancer, Ionizing radiation, Metastasis, Mutation, Oncology, Colorectal cancer, Neoplasm


De novo point mutations arise predominantly in the male germline and increase in frequency with age, but it has not previously been possible to locate specific, identifiable mutations directly within the seminiferous tubules of human testes. Using microdissection of tubules exhibiting altered expression of the spermatogonial markers MAGEA4, FGFR3, and phospho-AKT, whole genome amplification, and DNA sequencing, we establish an in situ strategy for discovery and analysis of pathogenic de novo mutations. In 14 testes from men aged 39-90 y, we identified 11 distinct gain-of-function mutations in five genes (fibroblast growth factor receptors FGFR2 and FGFR3, tyrosine phosphatase PTPN11, and RAS oncogene homologs HRAS and KRAS) from 16 of 22 tubules analyzed; all mutations have known associations with severe diseases, ranging from congenital or perinatal lethal disorders to somatically acquired cancers. These results support proposed selfish selection of spermatogonial mutations affecting growth factor receptor-RAS signaling, highlight its prevalence in older men, and enable direct visualization of the microscopic anatomy of elongated mutant clones.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Gene, Cancer, Mutation, Sertoli cell, Fibroblast growth factor receptor


To correlate the variable clinical features of oestrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer with somatic alterations, we studied pretreatment tumour biopsies accrued from patients in two studies of neoadjuvant aromatase inhibitor therapy by massively parallel sequencing and analysis. Eighteen significantly mutated genes were identified, including five genes (RUNX1, CBFB, MYH9, MLL3 and SF3B1) previously linked to haematopoietic disorders. Mutant MAP3K1 was associated with luminal A status, low-grade histology and low proliferation rates, whereas mutant TP53 was associated with the opposite pattern. Moreover, mutant GATA3 correlated with suppression of proliferation upon aromatase inhibitor treatment. Pathway analysis demonstrated that mutations in MAP2K4, a MAP3K1 substrate, produced similar perturbations as MAP3K1 loss. Distinct phenotypes in oestrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer are associated with specific patterns of somatic mutations that map into cellular pathways linked to tumour biology, but most recurrent mutations are relatively infrequent. Prospective clinical trials based on these findings will require comprehensive genome sequencing.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cancer, Breast cancer, Mutation, Evolution, Aromatase inhibitor


Spermatogenesis is a complex process reliant upon interactions between germ cells (GC) and supporting somatic cells. Testicular Sertoli cells (SC) support GCs during maturation through physical attachment, the provision of nutrients, and protection from immunological attack. This role is facilitated by an active cytoskeleton of parallel microtubule arrays that permit transport of nutrients to GCs, as well as translocation of spermatids through the seminiferous epithelium during maturation. It is well established that chemical perturbation of SC microtubule remodelling leads to premature GC exfoliation demonstrating that microtubule remodelling is an essential component of male fertility, yet the genes responsible for this process remain unknown. Using a random ENU mutagenesis approach, we have identified a novel mouse line displaying male-specific infertility, due to a point mutation in the highly conserved ATPase domain of the novel KATANIN p60-related microtubule severing protein Katanin p60 subunit A-like1 (KATNAL1). We demonstrate that Katnal1 is expressed in testicular Sertoli cells (SC) from 15.5 days post-coitum (dpc) and that, consistent with chemical disruption models, loss of function of KATNAL1 leads to male-specific infertility through disruption of SC microtubule dynamics and premature exfoliation of spermatids from the seminiferous epithelium. The identification of KATNAL1 as an essential regulator of male fertility provides a significant novel entry point into advancing our understanding of how SC microtubule dynamics promotes male fertility. Such information will have resonance both for future treatment of male fertility and the development of non-hormonal male contraceptives.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Testicle, Spermatozoon, Sertoli cell, Spermatogenesis


Some tissue types give rise to human cancers millions of times more often than other tissue types. Although this has been recognized for more than a century, it has never been explained. Here, we show that the lifetime risk of cancers of many different types is strongly correlated (0.81) with the total number of divisions of the normal self-renewing cells maintaining that tissue’s homeostasis. These results suggest that only a third of the variation in cancer risk among tissues is attributable to environmental factors or inherited predispositions. The majority is due to “bad luck,” that is, random mutations arising during DNA replication in normal, noncancerous stem cells. This is important not only for understanding the disease but also for designing strategies to limit the mortality it causes.

Concepts: DNA, Cell, Cancer, Mutation, Ultraviolet, Cell division, Chromosome, DNA replication