Unraveling the genetic cause of hereditary ophthalmic disorders in Arab societies from Israel and the Palestinian Authority

Mayer, Anja K.
Balousha, Ghassan
Sharkia, Rajech
Mahajnah, Muhammad
Ayesh, Suhail
Schulze, Martin
Buchert, Rebecca
Zobor, Ditta
Azem, Abdussalam
Schols, Ludger
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Nature Publishing Group on behalf of the European Society of Human Genetics
Visual impairment due to inherited ophthalmic disorders is amongst the most common disabilities observed in populations practicing consanguineous marriages. Here we investigated the molecular genetic basis of an unselected broad range of ophthalmic disorders in 20 consanguineous families from Arab villages of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Most patients had little or very poor prior clinical workup and were recruited in a field study. Homozygosity mapping followed by candidate gene sequencing applying conventional Sanger sequencing or targeted next generation sequencing was performed in six families. In the remaining 14 families, one affected subject per family was chosen for whole exome sequencing. We discovered likely disease-causing variants, all homozygous, in 19 of 20 independent families (95%) including a previously reported novel disease gene for congenital nystagmus associated with foveal hypoplasia. Moreover, we found a family in which disease-causing variants for two collagenopathies — Stickler and Knobloch syndrome — segregate within a large sibship. Nine of the 19 distinct variants observed in this study were novel. Our study demonstrated a very high molecular diagnostic yield for a highly diverse spectrum of rare ophthalmic disorders in Arab patients from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, even with very limited prior clinical investigation. We conclude that ‘genetic testing first' may be an economic way to direct clinical care and to support proper genetic counseling and risk assessment in these families.