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The genetic bases of common, nonmendelian epilepsy have been difficult to elucidate. In this article, we argue for a new approach to genetic inquiry in epilepsy. In the latter part of the 19th century, epilepsy was universally acknowledged to be part of a wider "neurological trait" that included other neuropsychiatric conditions. In recent years, studies of comorbidity have shown clear links between epilepsy and various neuropsychiatric disorders including psychosis and depression, and genetic studies of copy number variants (CNVs) have shown that in some cases, the same CNV underpins neuropsychiatric illness and epilepsy. Functional annotation analysis of the sets of genes impacted by epilepsy CNVs shows enrichment for genes involved with neural development, with gene ontological (GO) categories including "neurological system process" (P=0.006), "synaptic transmission" (P=0.009), and "learning or memory" (P=0.01). These data support the view that epilepsy and some neuropsychiatric conditions share pathogenic neurodevelopmental pathways, and that epilepsy should be included in the spectrum of neurodevelopmental disorders. Yet, most current genetic research in epilepsy has restricted samples to specific types of epilepsy categorized according to the clinical classification schemes on the basis of seizure type, anatomical location, or epilepsy syndrome. These schemes are, to an extent, arbitrary and do not necessarily align with biological reality. We propose an alternative approach that makes no phenotypic assumptions beyond including epilepsy in the neurodevelopmental spectrum. A "'value-free" strategy of reverse phenotyping may be worth exploring, starting with genetic association and looking backward at the phenotype. Finally, it should be noted that there are societal implications to associating epilepsy with other neuropsychiatric disorders, and it is vital to ensure research in this area does not result in increased stigma for patients with epilepsy. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Michael R Johnson, Simon D Shorvon. Heredity in epilepsy: neurodevelopment, comorbidity, and the neurological trait. Epilepsy & behavior : E&B. 2011 Nov;22(3):421-7

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PMID: 21890419

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