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Abstract The aims of our study were to use whole genome sequencing in a cross-sectional cohort of patients to identify new variants in genes implicated in neuropathic pain, to determine prevalence of known pathogenic variants, and understand the relationship between pathogenic variants and clinical presentation. Patients with extreme neuropathic pain phenotypes (both sensory loss and gain) were recruited from secondary care clinics in the UK, and underwent whole genome sequencing as part of National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Bioresource Rare Diseases project. A multi-disciplinary team assessed pathogenicity of rare variants in genes previously known to cause neuropathic pain disorders and exploratory analysis of research candidate genes was completed. Association testing for genes carrying rare variants was completed using the gene-wise approach of the combined burden and variance-component test SKAT-O. Patch clamp analysis was performed on transfected HEK293T cells for research candidate variants of genes encoding ion channels. The results include the following: (1) Medically actionable variants were found in 12% of study participants (205 recruited), including known pathogenic variants: SCN9A(ENST00000409672.1): c.2544T>C, p.Ile848Thr that causes inherited erythromelalgia, and SPTLC1(ENST00000262554.2):c.340T>G, p.Cys133Tr variant that causes hereditary sensory neuropathy type-1. (2) Clinically relevant variants were most common in voltage-gated sodium channels (Nav). (3) SCN9A(ENST00000409672.1):c.554G>A, pArg185His variant was more common in non-freezing cold injury participants than controls, and causes a gain of function of NaV1.7 after cooling (the environmental trigger for non-freezing cold injury). (4) Rare variant association testing showed a significant difference in distribution for genes NGF, KIF1A, SCN8A, TRPM8, KIF1A, TRPA1 and the regulatory regions of genes SCN11A, FLVCR1, KIF1A, and SCN9A between European participants with neuropathic pain and controls. (5) The TRPA1(ENST00000262209.4):c.515C>T, p.Ala172Val variant identified in participants with episodic somatic pain disorder demonstrated gain of channel function to agonist stimulation. Whole genome sequencing identified clinically relevant variants in over 10% of participants with extreme neuropathic pain phenotypes. The majority of these variants were found in ion channels. Combining genetic analysis with functional validation can lead to better understanding as to how rare variants in ion channels lead to sensory neuron hyper-excitability, and how cold, as an environmental trigger, interacts with the gain of function NaV1.7 p.Arg185His variant. Our findings highlight the role of ion channel variants in the pathogenesis of extreme neuropathic pain disorders, likely mediated through changes in sensory neuron excitability and interaction with environmental triggers.

Original publication




Journal article


Brain Communications


Oxford University Press (OUP)

Publication Date