Most stroke is multifactorial with multiple polygenic risk factors each conferring small increases in risk interacting with environmental risk factors, but it can also arise from mutations in a single gene. This review covers single-gene disorders which lead to stroke as a major phenotype, with a focus on those which cause cerebral small vessel disease (SVD), an area where there has been significant recent progress with findings that may inform us about the pathogenesis of SVD more broadly. We also discuss the impact that next generation sequencing technology (NGST) is likely to have on clinical practice in this area. The most common form of monogenic SVD is cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy, due to the mutations in the NOTCH3 gene. Several other inherited forms of SVD include cerebral autosomal recessive arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy, retinal vasculopathy with cerebral leukodystrophy, collagen type IV α1 and α2 gene-related arteriopathy and FOXC1 deletion related arteriopathy. These monogenic forms of SVD, with overlapping clinical phenotypes, are beginning to provide insights into how the small arteries in the brain can be damaged and some of the mechanisms identified may also be relevant to more common sporadic SVD. Despite the discovery of these disorders, it is often challenging to clinically and radiologically distinguish between syndromes, while screening multiple genes for causative mutations that can be costly and time-consuming. The rapidly falling cost of NGST may allow quicker diagnosis of these rare causes of SVD, and can also identify previously unknown disease-causing variants.
Keywords: CADASIL; CARASIL; COL4A1; Genetics; Next generation sequencing; Retinal vasculopathy with cerebral leukodystrophy; Small vessel disease; Stroke.