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Genetic Modifiers for Neuromuscular Diseases


Neuromuscular diseases, which encompass disorders that affect muscle and its innervation, are highly heritable. Genetic diagnosis now frequently pinpoints the primary mutation responsible for a given neuromuscular disease. However, the results from genetic testing indicate that neuromuscular disease phenotypes may vary widely, even in individuals with the same primary disease-causing mutation. Clinical variability arises from both genetic and environmental factors. Genetic modifiers can now be identified using candidate gene as well as genomic approaches. The presence of genetic modifiers for neuromuscular disease helps define the clinical outcome and also highlights pathways of potential therapeutic utility. Herein, we will focus on single gene neuromuscular disorders, including muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and the methods that have been used to identify modifier genes. Animal models have been an invaluable resource for modifier gene discovery and subsequent mechanistic studies. Some modifiers, identified using animal models, have successfully translated to the human counterpart. Furthermore, in a few instances, modifier gene discovery has repetitively uncovered the same pathway, such as TGFβ signaling in muscular dystrophy, further emphasizing the relevance of that pathway. Knowledge of genetic factors that influence disease can have direct clinical applications for prognosis and predicted outcome.