Contribution of Rare and Low-Frequency Variants to Multiple Sclerosis Susceptibility in the Italian Continental Population

PROGEMUS PROGRESSO, F. Clarelli, N. Barizzone, E. Mangano, M. Zuccalà, C. Basagni, S. Anand, M. Sorosina, E. Mascia, S. Santoro, F.R. Guerini, E. Virgilio, A. Gallo, A. Pizzino, C. Comi, V. Martinelli, G. Comi, G. De Bellis, M. Leone, M. FilippiF. Esposito, R. Bordoni, F. Martinelli Boneschi, S. D'Alfonso

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Genome-wide association studies identified over 200 risk loci for multiple sclerosis (MS) focusing on common variants, which account for about 50% of disease heritability. The goal of this study was to investigate whether low-frequency and rare functional variants, located in MS-established associated loci, may contribute to disease risk in a relatively homogeneous population, testing their cumulative effect (burden) with gene-wise tests. We sequenced 98 genes in 588 Italian patients with MS and 408 matched healthy controls (HCs). Variants were selected using different filtering criteria based on allelic frequency and in silico functional impacts. Genes showing a significant burden (n = 17) were sequenced in an independent cohort of 504 MS and 504 HC. The highest signal in both cohorts was observed for the disruptive variants (stop-gain, stop-loss, or splicing variants) located in EFCAB13, a gene coding for a protein of an unknown function (p < 10–4). Among these variants, the minor allele of a stop-gain variant showed a significantly higher frequency in MS versus HC in both sequenced cohorts (p = 0.0093 and p = 0.025), confirmed by a meta-analysis on a third independent cohort of 1298 MS and 1430 HC (p = 0.001) assayed with an SNP array. Real-time PCR on 14 heterozygous individuals for this variant did not evidence the presence of the stop-gain allele, suggesting a transcript degradation by non-sense mediated decay, supported by the evidence that the carriers of the stop-gain variant had a lower expression of this gene (p = 0.0184). In conclusion, we identified a novel low-frequency functional variant associated with MS susceptibility, suggesting the possible role of rare/low-frequency variants in MS as reported for other complex diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number800262
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • adult
  • Article
  • bioinformatics
  • cohort analysis
  • computer model
  • controlled study
  • disease course
  • disease duration
  • disease predisposition
  • DNA sequencing
  • Expanded Disability Status Scale
  • female
  • filtration
  • follow up
  • gene frequency
  • genetic susceptibility
  • genome-wide association study
  • heterozygosity
  • human
  • Italian (citizen)
  • major clinical study
  • male
  • multiple sclerosis
  • nonsense mediated mRNA decay
  • protein function
  • quality control
  • real time polymerase chain reaction
  • single nucleotide polymorphism array
  • burden test
  • EFCAB13
  • pool sequencing
  • rare variants


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