Targeted sequencing and in vitro splice assays shed light on ABCA4-associated retinopathies missing heritability

Corradi, Z., Khan, M., Hitti-Malin, R., Mishra, K., Whelan, L., Cornelis, S. S., ABCA4-Study Group, Hoyng, C. B., Kämpjärvi, K., Klaver, C. C. W., Liskova, P., Stohr, H., Weber, B. H. F., Banfi, S., Farrar, G. J., Sharon, D., Zernant, J., Allikmets, R., Dhaenens, C.-M., & Cremers, F. P. M. (2023). Targeted sequencing and in vitro splice assays shed light on ABCA4-associated retinopathies missing heritability. HGG Advances: Human Genetics and Genomics Advances. Advance online publication. doi:10.1016/j.xhgg.2023.100237.
The ABCA4 gene is the most frequently mutated Mendelian retinopathy-associated gene. Biallelic variants lead to a variety of phenotypes, however, for thousands of cases the underlying variants remain unknown. Here, we aim to shed further light on the missing heritability of ABCA4-associated retinopathy by analyzing a large cohort of macular dystrophy probands. A total of 858 probands were collected from 26 centers, of whom 722 carried no or one pathogenic ABCA4 variant while 136 cases carried two ABCA4 alleles, one of which was a frequent mild variant, suggesting that deep-intronic variants (DIVs) or other cis-modifiers might have been missed. After single molecule molecular inversion probes (smMIPs)-based sequencing of the complete 128-kb ABCA4 locus, the effect of putative splice variants was assessed in vitro by midigene splice assays in HEK293T cells. The breakpoints of copy number variants (CNVs) were determined by junction PCR and Sanger sequencing. ABCA4 sequence analysis solved 207/520 (39.8%) naïve or unsolved cases and 70/202 (34.7%) monoallelic cases, while additional causal variants were identified in 54/136 (39.7%) of probands carrying two variants. Seven novel DIVs and six novel non-canonical splice site variants were detected in a total of 35 alleles and characterized, including the c.6283-321C>G variant leading to a complex splicing defect. Additionally, four novel CNVs were identified and characterized in five alleles. These results confirm that smMIPs-based sequencing of the complete ABCA4 gene provides a cost-effective method to genetically solve retinopathy cases and that several rare structural and splice altering defects remain undiscovered in STGD1 cases.
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