Genes and genetic testing in hereditary ataxias

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Ataxia is a neurological cerebellar disorder characterized by loss of coordination during muscle movements affecting walking, vision, and speech. Genetic ataxias are very heterogeneous, with causative variants reported in over 50 genes, which can be inherited in classical dominant, recessive, X-linked, or mitochondrial fashion. A common mechanism of dominant ataxias is repeat expansions, where increasing lengths of repeated DNA sequences result in non-functional proteins that accumulate in the body causing disease. Greater understanding of all ataxia genes has helped identify several different pathways, such as DNA repair, ubiquitination, and ion transport, which can be used to help further identify new genes and potential treatments. Testing for the most common mutations in these genes is now clinically routine to help with prognosis and treatment decisions, but next generation sequencing will revolutionize how genetic testing will be done. Despite the large number of known ataxia causing genes, however, many individuals with ataxia are unable to obtain a genetic diagnosis, suggesting that more genes need to be discovered. Utilization of next generation sequencing technologies, expression studies, and increased knowledge of ataxia pathways will aid in the identification of new ataxia genes. © 2014 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

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Sandford, E., & Burmeister, M. (2014). Genes and genetic testing in hereditary ataxias. Genes. MDPI AG.

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