Background: Neuromuscular disorders (NMDs) are clinically and genetically heterogeneous. Accurate molecular genetic diagnosis can improve clinical management, provides appropriate genetic counseling and testing of relatives, and allows potential therapeutic trials.
Objective: To establish the clinical utility of panel-based whole exome sequencing (WES) in NMDs in a population with children and adults with various neuromuscular symptoms.
Methods: Clinical exome sequencing, followed by diagnostic interpretation of variants in genes associated with NMDs, was performed in a cohort of 396 patients suspected of having a genetic cause with a variable age of onset, neuromuscular phenotype, and inheritance pattern. Many had previously undergone targeted gene testing without results.
Results: Disease-causing variants were identified in 75/396 patients (19%), with variants in the three COL6-genes (COL6A1, COL6A2 and COL6A3) as the most common cause of the identified muscle disorder, followed by variants in the RYR1 gene. Together, these four genes account for almost 25% of cases in whom a definite genetic cause was identified. Furthermore, likely pathogenic variants and/or variants of uncertain significance were identified in 95 of the patients (24%), in whom functional and/or segregation analysis should be used to confirm or reject the pathogenicity. In 18% of the cases with a disease-causing variant of which we received additional clinical information, we identified a genetic cause in genes of which the associated phenotypes did not match that of the patients. Hence, the advantage of panel-based WES is its unbiased approach.
Conclusion: Whole exome sequencing, followed by filtering for NMD genes, offers an unbiased approach for the genetic diagnostics of NMD patients. This approach could be used as a first-tier test in neuromuscular disorders with a high suspicion of a genetic cause. With uncertain results, functional testing and segregation analysis are needed to complete the evidence.
Keywords: Neuromuscular diseases; exome sequencing; genetics; myopathies; neurology.