A Genome-First Approach to Characterize DICER1 Pathogenic Variant Prevalence, Penetrance, and Phenotype

JAMA Netw Open. 2021 Feb 1;4(2):e210112. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.0112.


Importance: Genetic disorders are historically defined through phenotype-first approaches. However, risk estimates derived from phenotype-linked ascertainment may overestimate severity and penetrance. Pathogenic variants in DICER1 are associated with increased risks of rare and common neoplasms and thyroid disease in adults and children. This study explored how effectively a genome-first approach could characterize the clinical traits associated with germline DICER1 putative loss-of-function (pLOF) variants in an unselected clinical cohort.

Objective: To examine the prevalence, penetrance, and phenotypic characteristics of carriers of germline DICER1 pLOF variants via genome-first ascertainment.

Design, setting, and participants: This cohort study classifies DICER1 variants in germline exome sequence data from 92 296 participants of the Geisinger MyCode Community Health Initiative. Data for each MyCode participant were used from the start of the Geisinger electronic health record to February 1, 2018.

Main outcomes and measures: Prevalence of germline DICER1 variation; penetrance of malignant tumors and thyroid disease in carriers of germline DICER1 variation; structured, manual review of electronic health records; and DICER1 sequencing of available tumors from an associated cancer registry.

Results: A total of 92 296 adults (mean [SD] age, 59 [18] years; 98% white; 60% female) participated in the study. Germline DICER1 pLOF variants were observed in 1 in 3700 to 1 in 4600 participants, more than double the expected prevalence. Malignant tumors (primarily thyroid carcinoma) were observed in 4 of 25 participants (16%) with DICER1 pLOF variants, which is comparable (by 50 years of age) to the frequency of neoplasms in the largest registry- and clinic-based (phenotype-first) DICER1 studies published to date. DICER1 pLOF variants were significantly associated with risks of thyroidectomy (odds ratio [OR], 6.0; 95% CI, 2.2-16.3; P = .007) and thyroid cancer (OR, 9.2; 95% CI, 2.1-34.7; P = .02) compared with controls, but there was not a significant increase in the risk of goiter (OR, 1.8; 95% CI, 0.7-4.9). A female patient in her 80s who was a carrier of a germline DICER1 hotspot variant was apparently healthy on electronic health record review. The term DICER1 did not appear in any of the medical records of the 25 participants with a pLOF DICER1 variant, even in those affected with a known DICER1-associated tumor or thyroid phenotype.

Conclusions and relevance: This cohort study was able to ascertain individuals with germline DICER1 variants based on a genome-first approach rather than through a previously established DICER1-related phenotype. Use of the genome-first approach may complement more traditional approaches to syndrome delineation and may be an efficient approach for risk estimation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genome
  • Germ-Line Mutation
  • Goiter, Nodular / epidemiology
  • Goiter, Nodular / genetics
  • Graves Disease / epidemiology
  • Graves Disease / genetics
  • Heterozygote
  • Humans
  • Hypothyroidism / epidemiology
  • Hypothyroidism / genetics
  • Kidney Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Kidney Neoplasms / genetics
  • Loss of Function Mutation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics
  • Penetrance*
  • Phenotype*
  • Prevalence
  • Pulmonary Blastoma / epidemiology
  • Pulmonary Blastoma / genetics
  • Ribonuclease III / genetics*
  • Sarcoma / epidemiology
  • Sarcoma / genetics
  • Sertoli-Leydig Cell Tumor / epidemiology
  • Sertoli-Leydig Cell Tumor / genetics
  • Sex Cord-Gonadal Stromal Tumors / epidemiology
  • Sex Cord-Gonadal Stromal Tumors / genetics
  • Testicular Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Testicular Neoplasms / genetics
  • Thyroid Diseases / epidemiology
  • Thyroid Diseases / genetics*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Thyroid Nodule / epidemiology
  • Thyroid Nodule / genetics
  • Thyroidectomy / statistics & numerical data
  • Thyrotoxicosis / epidemiology
  • Thyrotoxicosis / genetics
  • Wilms Tumor / epidemiology
  • Wilms Tumor / genetics
  • Young Adult


  • DICER1 protein, human
  • Ribonuclease III
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases

Supplementary concepts

  • Pleuropulmonary blastoma