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Front Neurol. 2018 May 2;9:276. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2018.00276. eCollection 2018.

Clinical Application of Epilepsy Genetics in Africa: Is Now the Time?

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Division of Human Genetics, Department of Pathology, Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.
National Health Laboratory Service, Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa.
Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, United States.
KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Centre for Geographic Medicine Research-Coast, Kilifi, Kenya.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States.
Department of Neurology, Epilepsy Genetics Program, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, United States.
School of Child and Adolescent Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.
Paediatric Neurology and Neurophysiology, Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa.


Over 80% of people with epilepsy live in low- to middle-income countries where epilepsy is often undiagnosed and untreated due to limited resources and poor infrastructure. In Africa, the burden of epilepsy is exacerbated by increased risk factors such as central nervous system infections, perinatal insults, and traumatic brain injury. Despite the high incidence of these etiologies, the cause of epilepsy in over 60% of African children is unknown, suggesting a possible genetic origin. Large-scale genetic and genomic research in Europe and North America has revealed new genes and variants underlying disease in a range of epilepsy phenotypes. The relevance of this knowledge to patient care is especially evident among infants with early-onset epilepsies, where early genetic testing can confirm the diagnosis and direct treatment, potentially improving prognosis and quality of life. In Africa, however, genetic epilepsies are among the most under-investigated neurological disorders, and little knowledge currently exists on the genetics of epilepsy among African patients. The increased diversity on the continent may yield unique, important epilepsy-associated genotypes, currently absent from the North American or European diagnostic testing protocols. In this review, we propose that there is strong justification for developing the capacity to offer genetic testing for children with epilepsy in Africa, informed mostly by the existing counseling and interventional needs. Initial simple protocols involving well-recognized epilepsy genes will not only help patients but will give rise to further clinically relevant research, thus increasing knowledge and capacity.


early-life epilepsy; genetic epilepsy; genetic testing; low- to middle-income countries; seizures; sub-Saharan Africa

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