The genomic landscape across 474 surgically accessible epileptogenic human brain lesions

Brain. 2023 Apr 19;146(4):1342-1356. doi: 10.1093/brain/awac376.


Understanding the exact molecular mechanisms involved in the aetiology of epileptogenic pathologies with or without tumour activity is essential for improving treatment of drug-resistant focal epilepsy. Here, we characterize the landscape of somatic genetic variants in resected brain specimens from 474 individuals with drug-resistant focal epilepsy using deep whole-exome sequencing (>350×) and whole-genome genotyping. Across the exome, we observe a greater number of somatic single-nucleotide variants in low-grade epilepsy-associated tumours (7.92 ± 5.65 single-nucleotide variants) than in brain tissue from malformations of cortical development (6.11 ± 4 single-nucleotide variants) or hippocampal sclerosis (5.1 ± 3.04 single-nucleotide variants). Tumour tissues also had the largest number of likely pathogenic variant carrying cells. low-grade epilepsy-associated tumours had the highest proportion of samples with one or more somatic copy-number variants (24.7%), followed by malformations of cortical development (5.4%) and hippocampal sclerosis (4.1%). Recurring somatic whole chromosome duplications affecting Chromosome 7 (16.8%), chromosome 5 (10.9%), and chromosome 20 (9.9%) were observed among low-grade epilepsy-associated tumours. For germline variant-associated malformations of cortical development genes such as TSC2, DEPDC5 and PTEN, germline single-nucleotide variants were frequently identified within large loss of heterozygosity regions, supporting the recently proposed 'second hit' disease mechanism in these genes. We detect somatic variants in 12 established lesional epilepsy genes and demonstrate exome-wide statistical support for three of these in the aetiology of low-grade epilepsy-associated tumours (e.g. BRAF) and malformations of cortical development (e.g. SLC35A2 and MTOR). We also identify novel significant associations for PTPN11 with low-grade epilepsy-associated tumours and NRAS Q61 mutated protein with a complex malformation of cortical development characterized by polymicrogyria and nodular heterotopia. The variants identified in NRAS are known from cancer studies to lead to hyperactivation of NRAS, which can be targeted pharmacologically. We identify large recurrent 1q21-q44 duplication including AKT3 in association with focal cortical dysplasia type 2a with hyaline astrocytic inclusions, another rare and possibly under-recognized brain lesion. The clinical-genetic analyses showed that the numbers of somatic single-nucleotide variant across the exome and the fraction of affected cells were positively correlated with the age at seizure onset and surgery in individuals with low-grade epilepsy-associated tumours. In summary, our comprehensive genetic screen sheds light on the genome-scale landscape of genetic variants in epileptic brain lesions, informs the design of gene panels for clinical diagnostic screening and guides future directions for clinical implementation of epilepsy surgery genetics.

Keywords: epilepsy; genetics; hippocampal sclerosis; low-grade epilepsy-associated tumour; malformation of cortical development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology
  • Drug Resistant Epilepsy* / genetics
  • Drug Resistant Epilepsy* / metabolism
  • Drug Resistant Epilepsy* / surgery
  • Epilepsies, Partial* / metabolism
  • Epilepsy* / pathology
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Malformations of Cortical Development* / complications
  • Malformations of Cortical Development* / genetics
  • Malformations of Cortical Development* / metabolism
  • Nucleotides / metabolism


  • Nucleotides