Underrepresentation of Diverse Ancestries Drives Uncertainty in Genetic Variants Found in Cardiomyopathy-Associated Genes

JACC Adv. 2024 Feb;3(2):100767. doi: 10.1016/j.jacadv.2023.100767. Epub 2023 Dec 15.


Background: Thousands of genetic variants have been identified in cardiomyopathy-associated genes. Diagnostic genetic testing is key for evaluation of individuals with suspected cardiomyopathy. While accurate variant pathogenicity assignment is important for diagnosis, the frequency of and factors associated with clinically relevant assessment changes are unclear.

Objectives: The authors aimed to characterize pathogenicity assignment change in cardiomyopathy-associated genes and to identify factors associated with this change.

Methods: We identified 10 sarcomeric and 6 desmosomal genetic cardiomyopathy-associated genes along with comparison gene sets. We analyzed clinically meaningful changes in pathogenicity assignment between any of the following: pathogenic/likely pathogenic (P/LP), conflicting interpretations of pathogenicity or variant of unknown significance (C/VUS), and benign/likely benign. We explored association of minor allele frequency (MAF) differences between well, and traditionally poorly, represented ancestries in genetic studies with assessment stability. Analyses were performed using ClinVar and GnomAD data.

Results: Of the 30,975 cardiomyopathy-associated gene variants in ClinVar, 2,276 of them (7.3%) had a clinically meaningful change in pathogenicity assignment over the study period, 2011 to 2021. Sixty-seven percent of variants that underwent a clinically significant change moved from P/LP or benign/likely benign to C/VUS. Among cardiomyopathy variants downgraded from P/LP, 35% had a MAF above 1 × 10 -4 in non-Europeans and below 1 × 10 -4 in Europeans.

Conclusions: Over the past 10 years, 7.3% of cardiomyopathy gene variants underwent a clinically meaningful change in pathogenicity assignment. Over 30% of downgrades from P/LP may be attributable to higher MAF in Non-Europeans than Europeans. This finding suggests that low ancestral diversity in genetic studies has increased diagnostic uncertainty in cardiomyopathy gene variants.

Keywords: ancestry; cardiomyopathy; diversity; genetic testing; variant.