Evidence for an oligogenic basis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder with a substantial heritable component. In pedigrees affected by its familial form, incomplete penetrance is often observed. We hypothesized that this could be caused by a complex inheritance of risk variants in multiple genes. Therefore, we screened 111 familial ALS (FALS) patients from 97 families, and large cohorts of sporadic ALS (SALS) patients and control subjects for mutations in TAR DNA-binding protein (TARDBP), fused in sarcoma/translated in liposarcoma (FUS/TLS), superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1), angiogenin (ANG) and chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9orf72). Mutations were identified in 48% of FALS families, 8% of SALS patients and 0.5% of control subjects. In five of the FALS families, we identified multiple mutations in ALS-associated genes. We detected FUS/TLS and TARDBP mutations in combination with ANG mutations, and C9orf72 repeat expansions with TARDBP, SOD1 and FUS/TLS mutations. Statistical analysis demonstrated that the presence of multiple mutations in FALS is in excess of what is to be expected by chance (P = 1.57 × 10−7). The most compelling evidence for an oligogenic basis was found in individuals with a p.N352S mutation in TARDBP, detected in five FALS families and three apparently SALS patients. Genealogical and haplotype analyses revealed that these individuals shared a common ancestor. We obtained DNA of 14 patients with this TARDBP mutation, 50% of whom had an additional mutation (ANG, C9orf72 or homozygous TARDBP). Hereby, we provide evidence for an oligogenic aetiology of ALS. This may have important implications for the interpretation of whole exome/genome experiments designed to identify new ALS-associated genes and for genetic counselling, especially of unaffected family members.