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AIMS - Positional cloning and candidate gene approaches have shown that atrial fibrillation (AF) is a complex disease with familial aggregation. Here, we employed whole-exome sequencing (WES) in AF kindreds to identify variants associated with familial AF.
METHODS AND RESULTS - WES was performed on 18 individuals in six modestly sized familial AF kindreds. After filtering very rare variants by multiple metrics, we identified 39 very rare and potentially pathogenic variants [minor allele frequency (MAF) ≤0.04%] in genes not previously associated with AF. Despite stringent filtering >1 very rare variants in the 5/6 of the kindreds were identified, whereas no plausible variants contributing to familial AF were found in 1/6 of the kindreds. Two candidate AF variants in the calcium channel subunit genes (CACNB2 and CACNA2D4) were identified in two separate families using expression data and predicted function.
CONCLUSION - By coupling family data with exome sequencing, we identified multiple very rare potentially pathogenic variants in five of six families, suggestive of a complex disease mechanism, whereas none were identified in the remaining AF pedigree. This study highlights some important limitations and challenges associated with performing WES in AF including the importance of having large well-curated multi-generational pedigrees, the issue of potential AF misclassification, and limitations of WES technology when applied to a complex disease.
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