A research team led by Seattle Children's Research Institute has discovered new gene mutations associated with markedly enlarged brain size, or megalencephaly. Mutations in three genes, AKT3, PIK3R2 and PIK3CA, were also found to be associated with a constellation of disorders including cancer, hydrocephalus, epilepsy, autism, vascular anomalies and skin growth disorders.
The discovery offers several important lessons and hope for the future in medicine. First, the research team discovered additional proof that the genetic make-up of a person is not completely determined at the moment of conception. Researchers previously recognized that genetic changes may occur after conception, but this was believed to be quite rare. Second, discovery of the genetic causes of these human diseases, including developmental disorders, may also lead directly to new possibilities for treatment.
AKT3, PIK3R2 and PIK3CA are present in all humans, but mutations in the genes are what lead to conditions including megalencephaly, cancer and other disorders. PIK3CA is a known cancer-related gene, and appears able to make cancer more aggressive. Scientists at Boston Children's Hospital recently published similar findings related to PIK3CA and a rare condition known as CLOVES syndrome in the American Journal of Human Genetics.