ABCA4-associated disease as a model for missing heritability in autosomal recessive disorders: novel noncoding splice, cis-regulatory, structural, and recurrent hypomorphic variants

Genet Med. 2019 Aug;21(8):1761-1771. doi: 10.1038/s41436-018-0420-y. Epub 2019 Jan 23.


Purpose: ABCA4-associated disease, a recessive retinal dystrophy, is hallmarked by a large proportion of patients with only one pathogenic ABCA4 variant, suggestive for missing heritability.

Methods: By locus-specific analysis of ABCA4, combined with extensive functional studies, we aimed to unravel the missing alleles in a cohort of 67 patients (p), with one (p = 64) or no (p = 3) identified coding pathogenic variants of ABCA4.

Results: We identified eight pathogenic (deep-)intronic ABCA4 splice variants, of which five are novel and six structural variants, four of which are novel, including two duplications. Together, these variants account for the missing alleles in 40.3% of patients. Furthermore, two novel variants with a putative cis-regulatory effect were identified. The common hypomorphic variant c.5603A>T p.(Asn1868Ile) was found as a candidate second allele in 43.3% of patients. Overall, we have elucidated the missing heritability in 83.6% of our cohort. In addition, we successfully rescued three deep-intronic variants using antisense oligonucleotide (AON)-mediated treatment in HEK 293-T cells and in patient-derived fibroblast cells.

Conclusion: Noncoding pathogenic variants, novel structural variants, and a common hypomorphic allele of the ABCA4 gene explain the majority of unsolved cases with ABCA4-associated disease, rendering this retinopathy a model for missing heritability in autosomal recessive disorders.

Keywords: ABCA4-associated disease; AON; deep-intronic; missing heritability; noncoding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / genetics*
  • Adult
  • Alleles
  • Cohort Studies
  • Exons / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genes, Recessive / genetics*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Introns / genetics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / genetics*
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / pharmacology
  • Pedigree
  • Phenotype
  • Retinal Dystrophies / genetics*
  • Retinal Dystrophies / pathology


  • ABCA4 protein, human
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense