Congenital hypothyroidism (CH), the most frequent form of preventable mental retardation, is predicted to have a relevant genetic origin. However, CH is frequently reported to be sporadic and candidate gene variations were found in <10% of the investigated patients. Here, we characterize the involvement of 11 candidate genes through a systematic Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) analysis. The NGS was performed in 177 unrelated CH patients (94 gland-in-situ; 83 dysgenesis) and in 3,538 control subjects. Non-synonymous or splicing rare variants (MAF<0.01) were accepted, and their functional impact was predicted by a comprehensive bioinformatic approach and co-segregation studies. The frequency of variations in cases and controls was extended to 18 CH-unrelated genes. At least one rare variant was accepted in 103/177 patients. Monogenic recessive forms of the disease were found in five cases, but oligogenic involvement was detected in 39 patients. The 167 variations were found to affect all genes independently of the CH phenotype. These findings were replicated in an independent cohort of additional 145 CH cases. When compared to 3,538 controls, the CH population was significantly enriched with disrupting variants in the candidate genes (P - 5.5 x 10(-7)), but not with rare variations in CH-unrelated genes. Co-segregation studies of the hypothyroid phenotype with multiple gene variants in several pedigrees confirmed the potential oligogenic origin of CH. The systematic NGS approach reveals the frequent combination of rare variations in morphogenetic or functional candidate genes in CH patients independently of phenotype. The oligogenic origin represents a suitable explanation for the frequent sporadic CH occurrence.
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