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author:("abelha, Sonia")
1.  Whole Exome Sequencing Identifies Mutations in Usher Syndrome Genes in Profoundly Deaf Tunisian Patients 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(3):e0120584.
Usher syndrome (USH) is an autosomal recessive disorder characterized by combined deafness-blindness. It accounts for about 50% of all hereditary deafness blindness cases. Three clinical subtypes (USH1, USH2, and USH3) are described, of which USH1 is the most severe form, characterized by congenital profound deafness, constant vestibular dysfunction, and a prepubertal onset of retinitis pigmentosa. We performed whole exome sequencing in four unrelated Tunisian patients affected by apparently isolated, congenital profound deafness, with reportedly normal ocular fundus examination. Four biallelic mutations were identified in two USH1 genes: a splice acceptor site mutation, c.2283-1G>T, and a novel missense mutation, c.5434G>A (p.Glu1812Lys), in MYO7A, and two previously unreported mutations in USH1G, i.e. a frameshift mutation, c.1195_1196delAG (p.Leu399Alafs*24), and a nonsense mutation, c.52A>T (p.Lys18*). Another ophthalmological examination including optical coherence tomography actually showed the presence of retinitis pigmentosa in all the patients. Our findings provide evidence that USH is under-diagnosed in Tunisian deaf patients. Yet, early diagnosis of USH is of utmost importance because these patients should undergo cochlear implant surgery in early childhood, in anticipation of the visual loss.
PMCID: PMC4370767  PMID: 25798947
2.  Evidence for Association of the E23K Variant of KCNJ11 Gene with Type 2 Diabetes in Tunisian Population: Population-Based Study and Meta-Analysis 
BioMed Research International  2014;2014:265274.
Aims. Genetic association studies have reported the E23K variant of KCNJ11 gene to be associated with Type 2 diabetes. In Arab populations, only four studies have investigated the role of this variant. We aimed to replicate and validate the association between the E23K variant and Type 2 diabetes in Tunisian and Arab populations. Methods. We have performed a case-control association study including 250 Tunisian patients with Type 2 diabetes and 267 controls. Allelic association has also been evaluated by 2 meta-analyses including all population-based studies among Tunisians and Arabs (2 and 5 populations, resp.). Results. A significant association between the E23K variant and Type 2 diabetes was found (OR = 1.6, 95% CI = 1.14–2.27, and P = 0.007). Furthermore, our meta-analysis has confirmed the significant role of the E23K variant in susceptibility of Type 2 diabetes in Tunisian and Arab populations (OR = 1.29, 95% CI = 1.15–1.46, and P < 10−3 and OR = 1.33, 95% CI = 1.13–1.56, and P = 0.001, resp.). Conclusion. Both case-control and meta-analyses results revealed the significant association between the E23K variant of KCNJ11 and Type 2 diabetes among Tunisians and Arabs.
PMCID: PMC4140131  PMID: 25165692
3.  Whole Exome Sequencing Identifies New Causative Mutations in Tunisian Families with Non-Syndromic Deafness 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99797.
Identification of the causative mutations in patients affected by autosomal recessive non syndromic deafness (DFNB forms), is demanding due to genetic heterogeneity. After the exclusion of GJB2 mutations and other mutations previously reported in Tunisian deaf patients, we performed whole exome sequencing in patients affected with severe to profound deafness, from four unrelated consanguineous Tunisian families. Four biallelic non previously reported mutations were identified in three different genes: a nonsense mutation, c.208C>T (p.R70X), in LRTOMT, a missense mutation, c.5417T>C (p.L1806P), in MYO15A and two splice site mutations, c.7395+3G>A, and c.2260+2T>A, in MYO15A and TMC1 respectively. We thereby provide evidence that whole exome sequencing is a powerful, cost-effective screening tool to identify mutations causing recessive deafness in consanguineous families.
PMCID: PMC4057390  PMID: 24926664
4.  A Founder Large Deletion Mutation in Xeroderma Pigmentosum-Variant Form in Tunisia: Implication for Molecular Diagnosis and Therapy 
BioMed Research International  2014;2014:256245.
Xeroderma pigmentosum Variant (XP-V) form is characterized by a late onset of skin symptoms. Our aim is the clinical and genetic investigations of XP-V Tunisian patients in order to develop a simple tool for early diagnosis. We investigated 16 suspected XP patients belonging to ten consanguineous families. Analysis of the POLH gene was performed by linkage analysis, long range PCR, and sequencing. Genetic analysis showed linkage to the POLH gene with a founder haplotype in all affected patients. Long range PCR of exon 9 to exon 11 showed a 3926 bp deletion compared to control individuals. Sequence analysis demonstrates that this deletion has occurred between two Alu-Sq2 repetitive sequences in the same orientation, respectively, in introns 9 and 10. We suggest that this mutation POLH NG_009252.1: g.36847_40771del3925 is caused by an equal crossover event that occurred between two homologous chromosomes at meiosis. These results allowed us to develop a simple test based on a simple PCR in order to screen suspected XP-V patients. In Tunisia, the prevalence of XP-V group seems to be underestimated and clinical diagnosis is usually later. Cascade screening of this founder mutation by PCR in regions with high frequency of XP provides a rapid and cost-effective tool for early diagnosis of XP-V in Tunisia and North Africa.
PMCID: PMC4024419  PMID: 24877075
5.  High frequency of exon 15 deletion in the FANCA gene in Tunisian patients affected with Fanconi anemia disease: implication for diagnosis 
Tunisian population is characterized by its heterogeneous ethnic background and high rate of consanguinity. In consequence, there is an increase in the frequency of recessive genetic disorders including Fanconi anemia (FA). The aim of this study was to confirm the existence of a founder haplotype among FA Tunisian patients and to identify the associated mutation in order to develop a simple tool for FA diagnosis. Seventy-four unrelated families with a total of 95 FA patients were investigated. All available family members were genotyped with four microsatellite markers flanking FANCA gene. Haplotype analysis and homozygosity mapping assigned 83 patients belonging to 62 families to the FA-A group. A common haplotype was shared by 42 patients from 26 families at a homozygous state while five patients from five families were heterozygous. Among them, 85% were from southern Tunisia suggesting a founder effect. Using multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification (MLPA) technique, we have also demonstrated that this haplotype is associated with a total deletion of exon 15 in FANCA gene. Identification of a founder mutation allowed genetic counseling in relatives of these families, better bone marrow graft donor selection and prenatal diagnosis. This mutation should be investigated in priority for patients originating from North Africa and Middle East.
PMCID: PMC3960058  PMID: 24689079
Exon 15 deletion; Fanconi anemia; founder haplotype; founder mutation; MLPA
6.  Clinical Polymorphism of Stargardt Disease in a Large Consanguineous Tunisian Family; Implications for Nosology 
To describe the polymorphic expression of Stargardt disease in a large Tunisian family with clinical intra- and interfamilial variation of the condition.
Twelve subjects from two related families with autosomal recessive Stargardt disease were enrolled. A detailed clinical examination including visual acuity and visual field measurement, fundus photography, fluorescein angiography, electroretinography (ERG) and color vision testing was performed for all subjects.
The youngest child from family A manifested typical Stargardt disease while her two brothers presented with Stargardt disease-fundus flavimaculatus (STGD-FFM) and her two sisters demonstrated a peculiar phenotype overlapping Stargardt disease and cone-rod dystrophy; their phenotypic manifestation corresponded well with ERG groups I, II and III, respectively. This uncommon occurrence of an age-related decline in ERG amplitude and worsening of fundus changes is suggestive of a grading pattern in Stargardt disease. Their two cousins in family B, displayed the STGD-FFM phenotype. Despite clinically similar STGD-FFM patterns in both families, age of onset and progression of the phenotype in family B differed from family A.
This is the first report on phenotypic variation of Stargardt disease in a large Tunisian family. Regarding phenotype and severity of visual symptoms, family A demonstrated Stargardt disease at various stages of progression. In addition, STGD-FFM appeared to be an independent clinical entity in family B. These findings imply that further parameters are required to classify Stargardt’s disease.
PMCID: PMC3957041  PMID: 24653822
Stargardt Disease; Fundus Flavimaculatus; Intrafamilial; Interfamilial; Progression; Classification; Prognosis
7.  Particular Mal de Meleda Phenotypes in Tunisia and Mutations Founder Effect in the Mediterranean Region 
BioMed Research International  2013;2013:206803.
Mal de Meleda (MDM) is a rare, autosomal recessive form of palmoplantar keratoderma. It is characterized by erythema and hyperkeratosis of the palms and soles that progressively extend to the dorsal surface of the hands and feet. It is caused by mutations in SLURP-1 gene encoding for secreted mammalian Ly-6/uPAR-related protein 1 (SLURP-1). We performed mutational analysis by direct sequencing of SLURP-1 gene in order to identify the genetic defect in three unrelated families (families MDM-12, MDM-13, and MDM-14) variably affected with transgressive palmoplantar keratoderma. A spectrum of clinical presentations with variable features has been observed from the pronounced to the transparent hyperkeratosis. We identified the 82delT frame shift mutation in the SLURP-1 gene in both families MDM-12 and MDM-13 and the missense variation p.Cys99Tyr in family MDM-14. To date, the 82delT variation is the most frequent cause of MDM in the world which is in favour of a recurrent molecular defect. The p.Cys99Tyr variation is only described in Tunisian families making evidence of founder effect mutation of likely Tunisian origin. Our patients presented with very severe to relatively mild phenotypes, including multiple keratolytic pits observed for one patient in the hyperkeratotic area which was not previously reported. The phenotypic variability may reflect the influence of additional factors on disease characteristics. This report further expands the spectrum of clinical phenotypes associated with mutations in SLURP1 in the Mediterranean population.
PMCID: PMC3777190  PMID: 24093092
8.  Further Evidence of Mutational Heterogeneity of the XPC Gene in Tunisian Families: A Spectrum of Private and Ethnic Specific Mutations 
BioMed Research International  2013;2013:316286.
Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP) is a rare recessive autosomal cancer prone disease, characterized by UV hypersensitivity and early appearance of cutaneous and ocular malignancies. We investigated four unrelated patients suspected to be XP-C. To confirm linkage to XPC gene, genotyping and direct sequencing of XPC gene were performed. Pathogenic effect of novel mutations was confirmed by reverse Transciptase PCR. Mutation screening revealed the presence of two novel mutations g.18246G>A and g.18810G>T in the XPC gene (NG_011763.1). The first is present in one patient XP50NEF, but the second is present in three unrelated patients (XP16KEB, XP28SFA, and XP45GB). These 3 patients are from three different cities of Southern Tunisia and bear the same haplotype, suggesting a founder effect. Reverse Transciptase PCR revealed the absence of the XPC mRNA. In Tunisia, as observed in an other severe genodermatosis, the mutational spectrum of XP-C group seems to be homogeneous with some clusters of heterogeneity that should be taken into account to improve molecular diagnosis of this disease.
PMCID: PMC3741899  PMID: 23984341
10.  Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS) breast cancer susceptibility loci in Arabs: susceptibility and prognostic implications in Tunisians 
Genome-wide Association Studies (GWAS) revealed novel genetic markers for breast cancer susceptibility. But little is known about the risk factors and molecular events associated with breast cancer in Arab Population. Therefore, we designed a broad study to investigate the susceptibility and prognostic implications of the GWAS breast cancer loci in the Tunisian population. In a cohort of 640 unrelated patients with breast cancer and 371 healthy control subjects, we characterized the variation of 9 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), namely rs1219648, rs2981582; rs8051542, rs12443621, and rs3803662; rs889312; rs3817198; rs13387042 and rs13281615. Only 5 out of 9 GWAS breast cancer loci were found to be significantly associated with breast cancer in Tunisians: The rs1219648 (G vs. A allele: OR = 1.36, P = 1 × 10−3) and rs2981582 (A vs. G allele: OR = 1.55, P = 3 × 10−6) of FGFR2 gene; the rs8051542 of the TNRC9 gene (T vs. C allele: OR = 1.40, P = 4 × 10−4); the rs889312 of the MAP3K1 gene (C vs. A allele: OR = 1.33, P = 3 × 10−3) and the rs13281615 located on 8q24 (G vs. A allele: OR = 1.21, P = 0.03). Homozygous variant genotypes of rs2981582 were strongly related to lymph node negative breast cancer (OR = 3.33, P = 6 × 10−7) and the minor allele of rs2981582 was associated with increased risk of ER+ tumors (OR = 1.57, P = 0.02; OR = 2.15, P = 0.001, for heterozygous and homozygous variant genotypes, respectively) and increased risk of distant metastasis development (OR = 2.30, P = 4 × 10−3; OR = 3.57, P = 6 × 10−5, for heterozygous and homozygous variant genotypes, respectively) in a dose dependent manner. The association for rs8051542 was stronger for high-grade SBR tumors (OR = 2.54, P = 2 × 10−4). GG genotype of rs13387042 on 2q35 showed a significant association with the risk of developing distant metastasis (OR = 1.94, P = 0.02). The G allele of rs1219648 in FGFR2 and the A allele of rs13387042 on 2q35 indicated a better prognosis by showing a significantly higher overall survival rates (P = 0.013 and P = 0.005, respectively). In conclusion, GWAS breast cancer FGFR2, TNRC9, MAP3K1, and 8q24 loci are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and genetic variation in FGFR2 gene may predict the aggressiveness of breast cancer in Tunisians.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10549-012-2202-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3439608  PMID: 22910930
Breast cancer; Tunisians; Arabs; GWAS; Prognosis; Survival
11.  Founder mutations in Tunisia: implications for diagnosis in North Africa and Middle East 
Tunisia is a North African country of 10 million inhabitants. The native background population is Berber. However, throughout its history, Tunisia has been the site of invasions and migratory waves of allogenic populations and ethnic groups such as Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Ottomans and French. Like neighbouring and Middle Eastern countries, the Tunisian population shows a relatively high rate of consanguinity and endogamy that favor expression of recessive genetic disorders at relatively high rates. Many factors could contribute to the recurrence of monogenic morbid trait expression. Among them, founder mutations that arise in one ancestral individual and diffuse through generations in isolated communities.
We report here on founder mutations in the Tunisian population by a systematic review of all available data from PubMed, other sources of the scientific literature as well as unpublished data from our research laboratory.
We identified two different classes of founder mutations. The first includes founder mutations so far reported only among Tunisians that are responsible for 30 genetic diseases. The second group represents founder haplotypes described in 51 inherited conditions that occur among Tunisians and are also shared with other North African and Middle Eastern countries. Several heavily disabilitating diseases are caused by recessive founder mutations. They include, among others, neuromuscular diseases such as congenital muscular dystrophy and spastic paraglegia and also severe genodermatoses such as dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa and xeroderma pigmentosa.
This report provides informations on founder mutations for 73 genetic diseases either specific to Tunisians or shared by other populations. Taking into account the relatively high number and frequency of genetic diseases in the region and the limited resources, screening for these founder mutations should provide a rapid and cost effective tool for molecular diagnosis. Indeed, our report should help designing appropriate measures for carrier screening, better evaluation of diseases burden and setting up of preventive measures at the regional level.
PMCID: PMC3495028  PMID: 22908982
Rare genetic disorders; Founder mutations; Common haplotype; Diagnosis; Mutation screening; Tunisia; North Africa; Middle East; Ethnicity
12.  Adult gaucher disease in southern Tunisia: report of three cases 
Gaucher disease (GD) is the most frequent lysosomal storage disorder; type 1 is by far the most common form. It is characterized by variability in age of onset, clinical signs and progression. It is usually diagnosed in the first or second decade of life with the appearance of bone pains, splenomegaly and thrombocytopenia, but the disease may be diagnosed at any age between 1 and 73 years. In the present study, we report 3 cases with late onset of GD in whom the disease was a surprise finding including one patient with Parkinson disease. This late onset is described as an adult form of Gaucher disease.
Molecular investigation showed mutational homogeneity in Tunisian adult patients suffering from GD. Indeed, all patients carry the p.N370S mutation: two patients at a homozygous state and one patient at compound heterozygous state.
The p.N370S mutation presents a large variability in the onset of the disease and its clinical manifestation supporting the view that GD should be considered as a continuum phenotype rather than a predefined classification.
PMCID: PMC3275535  PMID: 22233685
Adult; Gaucher disease; p.N370S; Parkinsson disease; Tunisia
13.  Systems medicine and integrated care to combat chronic noncommunicable diseases 
Genome Medicine  2011;3(7):43.
We propose an innovative, integrated, cost-effective health system to combat major non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular, chronic respiratory, metabolic, rheumatologic and neurologic disorders and cancers, which together are the predominant health problem of the 21st century. This proposed holistic strategy involves comprehensive patient-centered integrated care and multi-scale, multi-modal and multi-level systems approaches to tackle NCDs as a common group of diseases. Rather than studying each disease individually, it will take into account their intertwined gene-environment, socio-economic interactions and co-morbidities that lead to individual-specific complex phenotypes. It will implement a road map for predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory (P4) medicine based on a robust and extensive knowledge management infrastructure that contains individual patient information. It will be supported by strategic partnerships involving all stakeholders, including general practitioners associated with patient-centered care. This systems medicine strategy, which will take a holistic approach to disease, is designed to allow the results to be used globally, taking into account the needs and specificities of local economies and health systems.
PMCID: PMC3221551  PMID: 21745417
14.  Familial aggregation and excess maternal transmission of type 2 diabetes in Tunisia 
Postgraduate Medical Journal  2007;83(979):348-351.
To evaluate the degree of familial aggregation of type 2 diabetes mellitus in Tunisia and to investigate transmission patterns of the disease and their relationships with patients' clinical profiles.
Family history of diabetes and clinical data were collected for 132 unrelated type 2 diabetic Tunisian patients. Diabetes status was recorded for first degree relatives (parents, siblings) and second degree relatives (aunts and uncles from both maternal and paternal sides). Information about family history of diabetes was gathered for a total of 1767 individuals.
Familial aggregation of type 2 diabetes was prominent and more important among first degree relatives than among second degree relatives (p = 0.01). Among studied subjects, 70% reported at least one relative with diabetes and 34% had at least one parent with diabetes. Diabetes was more frequent among mothers than fathers of probands (p = 0.03). This maternal effect extends to second degree relatives as diabetes was more common among maternal than paternal aunts and uncles (p = 0.01). There is no significant difference in clinical and metabolic profiles between patients according to transmission patterns of the disease.
These results suggest familial aggregation and excess maternal transmission of type 2 diabetes in the Tunisian studied population.
PMCID: PMC2600082  PMID: 17488867
15.  Coexistence of mal de Meleda and congenital cataract in a consanguineous Tunisian family: two case reports 
Mal de Meleda is a rare form of palmoplantar keratoderma, with autosomal recessive transmission. It is characterized by diffuse erythema and hyperkeratosis of the palms and soles. Recently, mutations in the ARS (component B) gene (ARS, MIM: 606119) on chromosome 8q24.3 have been identified in families with this disorder. Congenital cataract is a visual disease that may interfere with sharp imaging of the retina. Mutations in the heat-shock transcription factor 4 gene (HSF4; MIM: 602438) may result in both autosomal dominant and autosomal recessive congenital cataracts.
Case presentation
A Tunisian family with two female siblings aged 45 and 30 years, presented with a clinical association of mal de Meleda and congenital cataract. The two patients exhibited diffuse palmoplantar keratodermas. One of them presented with a total posterior subcapsular cataract and had a best corrected visual acuity at 1/20 in the left eye and with the right eye was only able to count fingers at a distance of one foot. The other woman had a slight posterior subcapsular lenticular opacity and her best corrected visual acuity was 8/10 in the right eye and with her left eye she was only able to count fingers at a distance of one foot. A mutational analysis of their ARS gene revealed the presence of the homozygous missense mutation C99Y and two single nucleotide polymorphisms (-55G>C and -60G>C). The splice mutation (c.1327+4A-G) within intron 12 of the HSF4 gene, which has been previously described in Tunisian families with congenital cataract, was not found in the two probands within this family.
To the best of our knowledge, such original clinical association has not been reported previously. The association of these two autosomal recessive diseases might have occurred in this family due to a high degree of inbreeding. The C99Y mutation may be specific to the Tunisian population as it has been exclusively reported so far in only three Tunisian families with mal de Meleda.
PMCID: PMC2874570  PMID: 20406438

Results 1-15 (15)