Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Ascertainment bias causes false signal of anticipation in genetic Prion disease

  • Author(s): Minikel, EV
  • Zerr, I
  • Collins, SJ
  • Ponto, C
  • Boyd, A
  • Klug, G
  • Karch, A
  • Kenny, J
  • Collinge, J
  • Takada, LT
  • Forner, S
  • Fong, JC
  • Mead, S
  • Geschwind, MD
  • et al.

© 2014 by The American Society of Human Genetics. All rights reserved. Anticipation is the phenomenon whereby age of onset in genetic disease decreases in successive generations. Three independent reports have claimed anticipation in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) caused by the c.598G>A mutation in PRNP encoding a p.Glu200Lys (E200K) substitution in the prion protein. If confirmed, this finding would carry clear implications for genetic counseling. We analyzed pedigrees with this mutation from four prion centers worldwide (n = 217 individuals with the mutation) to analyze age of onset and death in affected and censored individuals. We show through simulation that selective ascertainment of individuals whose onset falls within the historical window since the mutation's 1989 discovery is sufficient to create robust false signals both of anticipation and of heritability of age of onset. In our data set, the number of years of anticipation observed depends upon how strictly the data are limited by the ascertainment window. Among individuals whose disease was directly observed at a study center, a 28-year difference between parent and child age of onset is observed (p = 0.002), but including individuals ascertained retrospectively through family history reduces this figure to 7 years (p = 0.005). Applying survival analysis to the most thoroughly ascertained subset of data eliminates the signal of anticipation. Moreover, even non-CJD deaths exhibit 16 years anticipation (p = 0.002), indicating that ascertainment bias can entirely explain observed anticipation. We suggest that reports of anticipation in genetic prion disease are driven entirely by ascertainment bias. Guidelines for future studies claiming statistical evidence for anticipation are suggested.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC Academic Senate's Open Access Policy. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
Current View