June 2, 2022

Common Risk Variants for Epilepsy are Enriched in Families Previously Targeted for Rare Monogenic Variant Discovery

Abstract found in The Lancet Discovery Science


Background: The epilepsies are highly heritable conditions that commonly follow complex inheritance. While monogenic causes have been identified in rare familial epilepsies, most familial epilepsies remain unsolved. We aimed to determine (1) whether common genetic variation contributes to familial epilepsy risk, and (2) whether that genetic risk is enriched in familial compared with non-familial (sporadic) epilepsies.

Methods: Using common variants derived from the largest epilepsy genome-wide association study, we calculated polygenic risk scores (PRS) for patients with familial epilepsy (n = 1,818 from 1,181 families), their unaffected relatives (n = 771), sporadic patients (n = 1,182), and population controls (n = 15,929). We also calculated separate PRS for genetic generalised epilepsy (GGE) and focal epilepsy. Statistical analyses used mixed-effects regression models to account for familial relatedness, sex, and ancestry.

Findings: Patients with familial epilepsies had higher epilepsy PRS compared to population controls (OR 1·20, padj = 5×10?9), sporadic patients (OR 1·11, padj = 0.008), and their own unaffected relatives (OR 1·12, padj = 0.01). The top 1% of the PRS distribution was enriched 3.8-fold for individuals with familial epilepsy when compared to the lowest decile (padj = 5×10?11). Familial PRS enrichment was consistent across epilepsy type; overall, polygenic risk was greatest for the GGE clinical group. There was no significant PRS difference in familial cases with established rare variant genetic etiologies compared to unsolved familial cases.

Interpretation: The aggregate effects of common genetic variants, measured as polygenic risk scores, play an important role in explaining why some families develop epilepsy, why specific family members are affected while their relatives are not, and why families manifest specific epilepsy types. Polygenic risk contributes to the complex inheritance of the epilepsies, including in individuals with a known genetic etiology.