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Genetics of epilepsy: an overview

L J Treiman
Epilepsia 1993, 34: S1-11
Studies of the genetics of epilepsy have, until recently, involved epidemiologic or segregation analyses of phenotypic characteristics of a number of seizure disorders. Technical advances in molecular biology involving gene mapping and gene identification have made it possible to examine the heritability of various epilepsy syndromes. Using "reverse genetics" or positional cloning, it is possible to identify an abnormal protein through gene isolation and cloning. Genes are localized through analysis of linkage to phenotypic markers (proteins) or DNA markers such as restriction fragment length polymorphisms, variable number of tandem repeats, and dinucleotides. Methods used to obtain DNA of interest involve digestion of genomic DNA with specific restriction endonucleases or amplification of DNA by polymerase chain reaction technology. Gel electrophoresis is the basis for the separation of different sized DNA. Inherited disorders for which a gene has been cloned or localized have highly penetrant, well-defined clinical phenotypes with no remissions and abundant clinical material. Genetic epilepsies, however, are variably penetrant age-dependent disorders with heterogeneous clinical phenotypes. Despite these difficulties, three genetic epilepsies have been mapped to specific chromosomes: benign familial neonatal convulsions to 20q, juvenile myoclonic epilepsy to 6p, and Baltic progressive myoclonus epilepsy to 21q. Further progress in understanding genetic epilepsies will depend on better definition of syndrome phenotypes, isolation of the epilepsy gene(s), and identification of the abnormal protein(s).

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