The commonest genetic form of juvenile or early adult onset macular degeneration is Stargardt Disease (STGD) caused by recessive mutations in the gene ABCA4. However, high phenotypic and allelic heterogeneity and a small but non-trivial amount of locus heterogeneity currently impede conclusive molecular diagnosis in a significant proportion of cases.
We performed whole exome sequencing (WES) of nine putative Stargardt Disease probands and searched for potentially disease-causing genetic variants in previously identified retinal or macular dystrophy genes. Follow-up dideoxy sequencing was performed for confirmation and to screen for mutations in an additional set of affected individuals lacking a definitive molecular diagnosis.
Whole exome sequencing revealed seven likely disease-causing variants across four genes, providing a confident genetic diagnosis in six previously uncharacterized participants. We identified four previously missed mutations in ABCA4 across three individuals. Likely disease-causing mutations in RDS/PRPH2, ELOVL, and CRB1 were also identified.
Our findings highlight the enormous potential of whole exome sequencing in Stargardt Disease molecular diagnosis and research. WES adequately assayed all coding sequences and canonical splice sites of ABCA4 in this study. Additionally, WES enables the identification of disease-related alleles in other genes. This work highlights the importance of collecting parental genetic material for WES testing as the current knowledge of human genome variation limits the determination of causality between identified variants and disease. While larger sample sizes are required to establish the precision and accuracy of this type of testing, this study supports WES for inherited early onset macular degeneration disorders as an alternative to standard mutation screening techniques.