Establishing a molecular diagnosis in patients with progressive ataxia is often challenging due to significant genetic and clinical heterogeneity and requires a methodical approach with expert clinical evaluation and investigations. This study describes the 5-year experience of the National Ataxia Clinic (NAC), Ireland. All adults with ataxia attending the NAC between 2014 and 2019 were evaluated. All individuals underwent detailed clinical assessment and investigations including, where appropriate, genetic testing using next-generation sequencing. For all patients, acquired causes were ruled out. A total of 254 patients from 196 families were assessed; with growth of the clinic cohort by 82% from 133 to 242 over the 5-year period. The underlying genetic cause was identified in 128/196 probands (65.3%). The detection rate for repeat expansion disorder gene testing was 47.7% (82/172) and using NGS gene panel, a genetic diagnosis was obtained in 30/84 (35.7%). Whole exome sequencing identified the molecular diagnosis in 4/20 (20%), and whole genome sequencing provided genetic diagnosis in 1/5 (20%). The commonest diagnosis was Friedreich's ataxia (68/128, 53.1%). SPG7-associated ataxia was the second most common diagnosis (21/128, 16.4%), followed by ANO10-associated spastic ataxia, ataxia telangiectasia (AT), and other rarer phenotypes. These results highlight that careful clinical phenotyping in a dedicated ataxia clinic is crucial for appropriate genetic testing in selected patients in a timely manner. Advanced genetic testing has significantly improved the diagnostic yield in patients with suspected genetic ataxia and should be considered in all individuals with negative repeat expansion testing.
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