An Overview of the Genetics of ABCA4 Retinopathies, an Evolving Story
Al-Khuzaei S., Broadgate S., Foster CR., Shah M., Yu J., Downes SM., Halford S.
Stargardt disease (STGD1) and ABCA4 retinopathies (ABCA4R) are caused by pathogenic variants in the ABCA4 gene inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. The gene encodes an importer flippase protein that prevents the build-up of vitamin A derivatives that are toxic to the RPE. Diagnosing ABCA4R is complex due to its phenotypic variability and the presence of other inherited retinal dystrophy phenocopies. ABCA4 is a large gene, comprising 50 exons; to date > 2000 variants have been described. These include missense, nonsense, splicing, structural, and deep intronic variants. Missense variants account for the majority of variants in ABCA4. However, in a significant proportion of patients with an ABCA4R phenotype, a second variant in ABCA4 is not identified. This could be due to the presence of yet unknown variants, or hypomorphic alleles being incorrectly classified as benign, or the possibility that the disease is caused by a variant in another gene. This underlines the importance of accurate genetic testing. The pathogenicity of novel variants can be predicted using in silico programs, but these rely on databases that are not ethnically diverse, thus highlighting the need for studies in differing populations. Functional studies in vitro are useful towards assessing protein function but do not directly measure the flippase activity. Obtaining an accurate molecular diagnosis is becoming increasingly more important as targeted therapeutic options become available; these include pharmacological, gene-based, and cell replacement-based therapies. The aim of this review is to provide an update on the current status of genotyping in ABCA4 and the status of the therapeutic approaches being investigated.