Genetic testing in dementia - utility and clinical strategies

Nat Rev Neurol. 2021 Jan;17(1):23-36. doi: 10.1038/s41582-020-00416-1. Epub 2020 Nov 9.


Techniques for clinical genetic testing in dementia disorders have advanced rapidly but remain to be more widely implemented in practice. A positive genetic test offers a precise molecular diagnosis, can help members of an affected family to determine personal risk, provides a basis for reproductive choices and can offer options for clinical trials. The likelihood of identifying a specific genetic cause of dementia depends on the clinical condition, the age at onset and family history. Attempts to match phenotypes to single genes are mostly inadvisable owing to clinical overlap between the dementias, genetic heterogeneity, pleiotropy and concurrent mutations. Currently, the appropriate genetic test in most cases of dementia is a next-generation sequencing gene panel, though some conditions necessitate specific types of test such as repeat expansion testing. Whole-exome and whole-genome sequencing are becoming financially feasible but raise or exacerbate complex issues such as variants of uncertain significance, secondary findings and the potential for re-analysis in light of new information. However, the capacity for data analysis and counselling is already restricting the provision of genetic testing. Patients and their relatives need to be given reliable information to enable them to make informed choices about tests, treatments and data sharing; the ability of patients with dementia to make decisions must be considered when providing this information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age of Onset
  • Dementia / diagnosis
  • Dementia / genetics*
  • Dementia / therapy
  • Genetic Testing*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype