Repeats expansions in ATXN2, NOP56, NIPA1 and ATXN1 are not associated with ALS in Africans

IBRO Neurosci Rep. 2021 Feb 10;10:130-135. doi: 10.1016/j.ibneur.2021.02.002. eCollection 2021 Jun.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease characterized primarily by progressive loss of motor neurons. Although ALS occurs worldwide and the frequency and spectrum of identifiable genetic causes of disease varies across populations, very few studies have included African subjects. In addition to a hexanucleotide repeat expansion (RE) in C9orf72, the most common genetic cause of ALS in Europeans, REs in ATXN2, NIPA1 and ATXN1 have shown variable associations with ALS in Europeans. Intermediate range expansions in some of these genes (e.g. ATXN2) have been reported as potential risk factors, or phenotypic modifiers, of ALS. Pathogenic expansions in NOP56 cause spinocerebellar ataxia-36, which can present with prominent motor neuron degeneration. Here we compare REs in these genes in a cohort of Africans with ALS and population controls using whole genome sequencing data. Targeting genotyping of short tandem repeats at known loci within ATXN2, NIPA1, ATXN1 and NOP56 was performed using ExpansionHunter software in 105 Southern African (SA) patients with ALS. African population controls were from an in-house SA population control database (n = 25), the SA Human Genome Program (n = 24), the Simons Genome Diversity Project (n = 39) and the Illumina Polaris Diversity Cohort (IPDC) dataset (n = 50). We found intermediate RE alleles in ATXN2 (27-33 repeats) and ATXN1 (33-35 repeats), and NIPA1 long alleles (≥8 repeats) were rare in Africans, and not associated with ALS (p > 0.17). NOP56 showed no expanded alleles in either ALS or controls. We also compared the differences in allele distributions between the African and n = 50 European controls (from the IPDC). There was a statistical significant difference in the distribution of the REs in the ATXN1 between African and European controls (Chi-test p < 0.001), and NIPA1 showed proportionately more longer alleles (RE > 8) in Europeans vs. Africans (Fisher's p = 0.016). The distribution of RE alleles in ATXN2 and NOP56 were similar amongst African and European controls. In conclusion, repeat expansions in ATXN2, NIPA1 and ATXN1, which showed associations with ALS in Europeans, were not replicated in Southern Africans with ALS.

Keywords: Africa; Motor neuron disease; Mutation; Repeat expansion.