In humans, genetic variation occurs through different types of alleles that vary in frequency and severity of effect. Mendelian mutations, such as those in the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor (LDLR) that result in familial hypercholesterolemia, are rare and have powerful phenotypic effects. Conversely, alleles that are common in the population (such that homozygotes for the minor allele are present even in modest sample sizes) typically have very modest phenotypic effects. In the middle of the spectrum are "Goldilocks" alleles such as mutations in the gene for proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9). Loss-of-function mutations in PCSK9 result in significantly decreased LDL-cholesterol levels and a disproportionately large reduction in coronary heart disease risk by reducing the exposure to LDL-cholesterol throughout life. Several agents to inhibit PCSK9 are currently in development, demonstrating the potential utility of translating genetics into clinical therapeutics. To date, most investigations aimed at identifying the genes responsible for hypercholesterolemia have used linkage analysis, which requires samples collected from multiple families with defects in the same gene, or common variant analysis which requires thousands of samples from the population. However, case studies have shown that with advances in whole genome sequencing or exome sequencing (targeted exome capture), the process of discovering causal genetic mutations can be significantly streamlined. Astute clinical observation of individual patients and their families with atypical lipid profiles, followed by sequencing of the affected individual, has the potential to lead to important findings regarding the genetic mutations that cause lipid abnormalities. © 2013 National Lipid Association. All rights reserved.
Cohen, J. C. (2013). Emerging LDL therapies: Using human genetics to discover new therapeutic targets for plasma lipids. Journal of Clinical Lipidology, 7(3 SUPPL.), S1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacl.2013.03.005