Can whole-exome sequencing (WES) of patients with multiple morphological abnormalities of the sperm flagella (MMAF) identify causal mutations in new genes or mutations in the previously identified dynein axonemal heavy chain 1 (DNAH1) gene?
WES for six families with men affected by MMAF syndrome allowed the identification of DNAH1 mutations in four affected men distributed in two out of the six families but no new candidate genes were identified.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY:
Mutations in DNAH1, an axonemal inner dynein arm heavy chain gene, have been shown to be responsible for male infertility due to a characteristic form of asthenozoospermia called MMAF, defined by the presence in the ejaculate of spermatozoa with a mosaic of flagellar abnormalities including absent, coiled, bent, angulated, irregular and short flagella.
STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION:
This was a retrospective genetics study of patients presenting a MMAF phenotype. Patients were recruited in Iran and Italy between 2008 and 2015.
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS:
WES was performed for a total of 10 subjects. All identified variants were confirmed by Sanger sequencing. Two additional affected family members were analyzed by direct Sanger sequencing. To establish the prevalence of the DNAH1 mutation identified in an Iranian family, we carried out targeted sequencing on 38 additional MMAF patients of the same geographical origin. RT-PCR and immunochemistry were performed on sperm samples to assess the effect of the identified mutation on RNA and protein.
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE:
WES in six families identified a causal mutations in two families. Two additional affected family members were confirmed to hold the same homozygous mutation as their sibling. In total, DNAH1 mutations were identified in 5 out of 12 analyzed subjects (41.7%). If we only include index cases, we detected two mutated subjects out of six (33%) tested MMAF individuals. Furthermore we sequenced one DNAH1 exon found to be mutated (c.8626-1G > A) in an Iranian family in an additional 38 MMAF patients from Iran. One of these patients carried the variant confirming that this variant is relatively frequent in the Iranian population. The effect of the c.8626-1G > A variant was confirmed by RT-PCR and immunochemistry as no RNA or protein could be observed in sperm from the affected men.
LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION:
WES allows the amplification of 80-90% of all coding exons. It is possible that some DNAH1 exons may not have been sequenced and that we may have missed some additional mutations. Also, WES cannot identify deep intronic mutations and it is not efficient for detection of large genomic events (deletions, insertions, inversions). We did not identify any causal mutations in DNAH1 or in other candidate genes in four out of the six tested families. This indicates that the technique and/or the analysis of our data can be improved to increase the diagnosis efficiency.
WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS:
Our findings confirm that DNAH1 is one of the main genes involved in MMAF syndrome. It is a large gene with 78 exons making it challenging and expensive to sequence using the traditional Sanger sequencing methods. We show that WES sequencing is good alternative to Sanger sequencing to reach a genetic diagnosis in patients with severe male infertility phenotypes.