Massively Parallel Sequencing for Rare Genetic Disorders: Potential and Pitfalls

Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2021 Feb 19;11:628946. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2020.628946. eCollection 2020.


There have been two major eras in the history of gene discovery. The first was the era of linkage analysis, with approximately 1,300 disease-related genes identified by positional cloning by the turn of the millennium. The second era has been powered by two major breakthroughs: the publication of the human genome and the development of massively parallel sequencing (MPS). MPS has greatly accelerated disease gene identification, such that disease genes that would have taken years to map previously can now be determined in a matter of weeks. Additionally, the number of affected families needed to map a causative gene and the size of such families have fallen: de novo mutations, previously intractable by linkage analysis, can be identified through sequencing of the parent-child trio, and genes for recessive disease can be identified through MPS even of a single affected individual. MPS technologies include whole exome sequencing (WES), whole genome sequencing (WGS), and panel sequencing, each with their strengths. While WES has been responsible for most gene discoveries through MPS, WGS is superior in detecting copy number variants, chromosomal rearrangements, and repeat-rich regions. Panels are commonly used for diagnostic purposes as they are extremely cost-effective and generate manageable quantities of data, with no risk of unexpected findings. However, in instances of diagnostic uncertainty, it can be challenging to choose the right panel, and in these circumstances WES has a higher diagnostic yield. MPS has ethical, social, and legal implications, many of which are common to genetic testing generally but amplified due to the magnitude of data (e.g., relationship misattribution, identification of variants of uncertain significance, and genetic discrimination); others are unique to WES and WGS technologies (e.g., incidental or secondary findings). Nonetheless, MPS is rapidly translating into clinical practice as an extremely useful part of the clinical armamentarium.

Keywords: gene discovery; massively parallel sequencing; rare genetic bone disorder; skeletal dysplasias; whole exome sequencing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Copy Number Variations / genetics
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / diagnosis
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / genetics*
  • Genetic Testing / methods*
  • Genetic Testing / trends
  • Genome, Human / genetics
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / trends
  • Humans
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Rare Diseases / diagnosis
  • Rare Diseases / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / trends