Publication date: May 25, 2021
Short tandem repeat (STR) expansion disorders are an important cause of human neurological disease. They have an established role in more than 40 different phenotypes including the myotonic dystrophies, Fragile X syndrome, Huntington’s disease, the hereditary cerebellar ataxias, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia. STR expansions are difficult to detect and may explain unsolved diseases, as highlighted by recent findings including: the discovery of a biallelic intronic ‘AAGGG’ repeat in RFC1 as the cause of cerebellar ataxia, neuropathy, and vestibular areflexia syndrome (CANVAS); and the finding of ‘CGG’ repeat expansions in NOTCH2NLC as the cause of neuronal intranuclear inclusion disease and a range of clinical phenotypes. However, established laboratory techniques for diagnosis of repeat expansions (repeat-primed PCR and Southern blot) are cumbersome, low-throughput and poorly suited to parallel analysis of multiple gene regions. While next generation sequencing (NGS) has been increasingly used, established short-read NGS platforms (e. g., Illumina) are unable to genotype large and/or complex repeat expansions. Long-read sequencing platforms recently developed by Oxford Nanopore Technology and Pacific Biosciences promise to overcome these limitations to deliver enhanced diagnosis of repeat expansion disorders in a rapid and cost-effective fashion. We anticipate that long-read sequencing will rapidly transform the detection of short tandem repeat expansion disorders for both clinical diagnosis and gene discovery.