Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Genetic Access Program: Paving the Way for Genetic Characterization of ALS in the Clinic

Objective

To report the frequency of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) genetic variants in a nationwide cohort of clinic-based patients with ALS with a family history of ALS (fALS), dementia (dALS), or both ALS and dementia (fALS/dALS).

Methods

A multicenter, prospective cohort of 573 patients with fALS, dALS, or fALS/dALS, underwent genetic testing in the ALS Genetic Access Program (ALS GAP), a clinical program for clinics of the Northeast ALS Consortium. Patients with dALS underwent C9orf72 hexanucleotide repeat expansion (HRE) testing; those with fALS or fALS/dALS underwent C9orf72 HRE testing, followed by sequencing of SOD1, FUS, TARDBP, TBK1, and VCP.

Results

A pathogenic (P) or likely pathogenic (LP) variant was identified in 171/573 (30%) of program participants. About half of patients with fALS or fALS/dALS (138/301, 45.8%) had either a C9orf72 HRE or a P or LP variant identified in SOD1, FUS, TARDBP, TBK1, or VCP. The use of a targeted, 5-gene sequencing panel resulted in far fewer uncertain test outcomes in familial cases compared with larger panels used in other in clinic-based cohorts. Among dALS cases 11.8% (32/270) were found to have the C9orf72 HRE. Patients of non-Caucasian geoancestry were less likely to test positive for the C9orf72 HRE, but were more likely to test positive on panel testing, compared with those of Caucasian ancestry.

Conclusions

The ALS GAP program provided a genetic diagnosis to ~1 in 3 participants and may serve as a model for clinical genetic testing in ALS.

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