Publications by authors named "Esmee H Runhart"

10 Publications

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Stargardt disease: monitoring incidence and diagnostic trends in the Netherlands using a nationwide disease registry.

Acta Ophthalmol 2021 Aug 25. Epub 2021 Aug 25.

Department of Ophthalmology, Radboud University Medical Centre, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Purpose: To assess the incidence of Stargardt disease (STGD1) and to evaluate demographics of incident cases.

Methods: For this retrospective cohort study, demographic, clinical and genetic data of patients with a clinical diagnosis of STGD1 were registered between September 2010 and January 2020 in a nationwide disease registry. Annual incidence (2014-2018) and point prevalence (2018) were assessed on the basis of this registry.

Results: A total of 800 patients were registered, 56% were female and 83% were of European ancestry. The incidence was 1.67-1.95:1,000,000 per year and the point prevalence in 2018 was approximately 1:22,000-1:19,000 (with and without 10% of potentially unregistered cases). Age at onset was associated with sex (p = 0.027, Fisher's exact); 1.9x more women than men were observed (140 versus 74) amongst patients with an age at onset between 10 and 19 years, while the sex ratio in other age-at-onset categories approximated one. Late-onset STGD1 (≥45 years) constituted 33% of the diagnoses in 2014-2018 compared to 19% in 2004-2008. Diagnostic delay (≥2 years between the first documentation of macular abnormalities and diagnosis) was associated with older age of onset (p = 0.001, Mann-Whitney). Misdiagnosis for age-related macular degeneration (22%) and incidental STGD1 findings (14%) was common in patients with late-onset STGD1.

Conclusion: The observed prevalence of STGD1 in real-world data was lower than expected on the basis of population ABCA4 allele frequencies. Late-onset STGD1 was more frequently diagnosed in recent years, likely due to higher awareness of its phenotype. In this pretherapeutic era, mis- and underdiagnosis of especially late-onset STGD1 and the role of sex in STGD1 should receive special attention.
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August 2021

Systemic complement activation levels in Stargardt disease.

PLoS One 2021 25;16(6):e0253716. Epub 2021 Jun 25.

Department of Ophthalmology, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Purpose: Preclinical research provides evidence for the complement system as a potential common pathway in Stargardt disease (STGD1) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) leading to retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) loss. However, systemic complement activation has not yet been assessed in STGD1 patients. We conducted a cross-sectional case-control study to assess systemic complement activation in STGD1 patients and its association with disease severity.

Methods: Systemic concentrations of complement component C3 and its degradation product C3d were compared between 80 STGD1 patients and 80 controls that were frequency matched for age and sex. The C3d/C3 ratio was used as parameter of systemic complement activation. Within the STGD1 cohort, we additionally examined the association between the C3d/C3 ratio, demographic and behavioural factors (age, sex, smoking and BMI), and measures of disease severity (age at onset, visual acuity, and area of atrophy).

Results: The C3d/C3 ratio did not significantly differ between patients (mean C3d/C3 ratio 3.5±1.4) and controls (mean C3d/C3 ratio 3.6±1.0), mean difference -0.156 (p = 0.804, independent samples t-test). The overall effect size was 8% (95% confidence interval, 3-15%). Elevated C3d/C3 ratios (>8.1) were found in three patients who all had a concomitant inflammatory condition at the time of blood draw. Within the patient cohort, C3 levels were associated with sex (mean difference -134, p = 0.001, independent samples t-test) and BMI (correlation coefficient 0.463, p<0.001, Spearman's Correlation).

Conclusions: Systemic complement levels were not elevated in STGD1 patients compared to age and sex matched controls and was not associated with STGD1 severity. Considering the continued absent proof of a systemic contribution of the complement system to RPE loss in STGD1 patients, we hypothesize that complement activation in STGD1 is more likely a local process. In light of upcoming complement-targeted therapies, further studies are needed that measure complement levels in the eye of STGD1 patients.
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November 2021

Correlation of Morphology and Function of Flecks Using Short-Wave Fundus Autofluorescence and Microperimetry in Patients With Stargardt Disease.

Transl Vis Sci Technol 2021 03;10(3):18

Department of Ophthalmology, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the functional relevance of longitudinal changes in hyperautofluorescent areas and flecks in Stargardt disease (STGD1) using short-wavelength autofluorescence (SW-AF) imaging.

Methods: In this prospective, longitudinal study, 31 patients with STGD1 (56 eyes) underwent microperimetry (MP) and SW-AF imaging twice in 3 to 5 years. A total of 760 MP test points were included in the statistical analysis based on stable fixation and accurate alignment of SW-AF and MP. Autofluorescence intensity was qualitatively assessed in all MP test points. Small circumscriptive hyperautofluorescent lesions were defined as flecks. Longitudinal imaging characteristics observed on SW-AF were classified into the following categories: appearing, disappearing, and stable flecks, stable hyperautofluorescent, and stable background autofluorescence. The relationship between SW-AF intensity changes and MP changes was analyzed using a linear mixed model corrected for baseline sensitivity.

Results: Retinal sensitivity declined most in locations without change in SW-AF intensity. Functional decline per year was significantly larger in flecks that disappeared (-0.72 ± 1.30 dB) compared to flecks that appeared (-0.34 ± 0.65 dB), if baseline sensitivity was high (≥10 dB; P < 0.01). The correlation between the change observed on SW-AF and the sensitivity change significantly depended on the sensitivity at baseline (P = 0.000).

Conclusions: Qualitative longitudinal assessment of SW-AF poorly reflected the retinal sensitivity loss observed over the course of 3 to 5 years.

Translational Relevance: When aiming to assess treatment effect on lesion level, a multimodal end point including MP focused on hyperautofluorescent lesions appears essential but needs further studies on optimizing MP grids, eye-tracking systems, and alignment software.
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March 2021

Association of Sex With Frequent and Mild ABCA4 Alleles in Stargardt Disease.

JAMA Ophthalmol 2020 10;138(10):1035-1042

Department of Human Genetics, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Importance: The mechanisms behind the phenotypic variability and reduced penetrance in autosomal recessive Stargardt disease (STGD1), often a blinding disease, are poorly understood. Identification of the unknown disease modifiers can improve patient and family counseling and provide valuable information for disease management.

Objective: To assess the association of incompletely penetrant ABCA4 alleles with sex in STGD1.

Design, Setting, And Participants: Genetic data for this cross-sectional study were obtained from 2 multicenter genetic studies of 1162 patients with clinically suspected STGD1. Unrelated patients with genetically confirmed STGD1 were selected. The data were collected from June 2016 to June 2019, and post hoc analysis was performed between July 2019 and January 2020.

Main Outcomes And Measures: Penetrance of reported mild ABCA4 variants was calculated by comparing the allele frequencies in the general population (obtained from the Genome Aggregation Database) with the genotyping data in the patient population (obtained from the ABCA4 Leiden Open Variation Database). The sex ratio among patients with and patients without an ABCA4 allele with incomplete penetrance was assessed.

Results: A total of 550 patients were included in the study, among which the mean (SD) age was 45.7 (18.0) years and most patients were women (311 [57%]). Five of the 5 mild ABCA4 alleles, including c.5603A>T and c.5882G>A, were calculated to have incomplete penetrance. The women to men ratio in the subgroup carrying c.5603A>T was 1.7 to 1; the proportion of women in this group was higher compared with the subgroup not carrying a mild allele (difference, 13%; 95% CI, 3%-23%; P = .02). The women to men ratio in the c.5882G>A subgroup was 2.1 to 1, and the women were overrepresented compared with the group carrying no mild allele (difference, 18%; 95% CI, 6%-30%; P = .005).

Conclusions And Relevance: This study found an imbalance in observed sex ratio among patients harboring a mild ABCA4 allele, which concerns approximately 25% of all patients with STGD1, suggesting that STGD1 should be considered a polygenic or multifactorial disease rather than a disease caused by ABCA4 gene mutations alone. The findings suggest that sex should be considered as a potential disease-modifying variable in both basic research and clinical trials on STGD1.
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October 2020

Resolving the dark matter of ABCA4 for 1054 Stargardt disease probands through integrated genomics and transcriptomics.

Genet Med 2020 07 20;22(7):1235-1246. Epub 2020 Apr 20.

Bartiméus Diagnostic Center for Complex Visual Disorders, Zeist, The Netherlands.

Purpose: Missing heritability in human diseases represents a major challenge, and this is particularly true for ABCA4-associated Stargardt disease (STGD1). We aimed to elucidate the genomic and transcriptomic variation in 1054 unsolved STGD and STGD-like probands.

Methods: Sequencing of the complete 128-kb ABCA4 gene was performed using single-molecule molecular inversion probes (smMIPs), based on a semiautomated and cost-effective method. Structural variants (SVs) were identified using relative read coverage analyses and putative splice defects were studied using in vitro assays.

Results: In 448 biallelic probands 14 known and 13 novel deep-intronic variants were found, resulting in pseudoexon (PE) insertions or exon elongations in 105 alleles. Intriguingly, intron 13 variants c.1938-621G>A and c.1938-514G>A resulted in dual PE insertions consisting of the same upstream, but different downstream PEs. The intron 44 variant c.6148-84A>T resulted in two PE insertions and flanking exon deletions. Eleven distinct large deletions were found, two of which contained small inverted segments. Uniparental isodisomy of chromosome 1 was identified in one proband.

Conclusion: Deep sequencing of ABCA4 and midigene-based splice assays allowed the identification of SVs and causal deep-intronic variants in 25% of biallelic STGD1 cases, which represents a model study that can be applied to other inherited diseases.
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July 2020

Late-Onset Stargardt Disease Due to Mild, Deep-Intronic ABCA4 Alleles.

Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2019 10;60(13):4249-4256

Department of Ophthalmology, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Purpose: To investigate the role of two deep-intronic ABCA4 variants, that showed a mild splice defect in vitro and can occur on the same allele as the low penetrant c.5603A>T, in Stargardt disease (STGD1).

Methods: Ophthalmic data were assessed of 18 STGD1 patients who harbored c.769-784C>T or c.4253+43G>A in combination with a severe ABCA4 variant. Subjects carrying c.[769-784C>T; 5603A>T] were clinically compared with a STGD1 cohort previously published carrying c.5603A>T noncomplex. We calculated the penetrances of the intronic variants using ABCA4 allele frequency data of the general population and investigated the effect of c.769-784C>T on splicing in photoreceptor progenitor cells (PPCs).

Results: Mostly, late-onset, foveal-sparing STGD1 was observed among subjects harboring c.769-784C>T or c.4253+43G>A (median age of onset, 54.5 and 52.0 years, respectively). However, ages of onset, phenotypes in fundo, and visual acuity courses varied widely. No significant clinical differences were observed between the c.[769-784C>T; 5603A>T] cohort and the c.4253+43G>A or the c.5603A>T cohort. The penetrances of c.769-784C>T (20.5%-39.6%) and c.4253+43G>A (35.8%-43.1%) were reduced, when not considering the effect of yet unidentified or known factors in cis, such as c.5603A>T (identified in 7/7 probands with c.769-784C>T; 1/8 probands with c.4253+43G>A). Variant c.769-784C>T resulted in a pseudo-exon insertion in 15% of the total mRNA (i.e., ∼30% of the c.769-784C>T allele alone).

Conclusions: Two mild intronic ABCA4 variants could further explain missing heritability in late-onset STGD1, distinguishing it from AMD. The observed clinical variability and calculated reduced penetrance urge research into modifiers within and outside of the ABCA4 gene.
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October 2019

Highly Variable Disease Courses in Siblings with Stargardt Disease.

Ophthalmology 2019 12 16;126(12):1712-1721. Epub 2019 Jul 16.

Department of Ophthalmology, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Electronic address:

Purpose: To investigate intersibling phenotypic concordance in Stargardt disease (STGD1).

Design: Retrospective cohort study.

Participants: Siblings with genetically confirmed STGD1 and at least 1 available fundus autofluorescence (FAF) image of both eyes.

Methods: We compared age at onset within families. Disease duration was matched to investigate differences in best-corrected visual acuity (BCVA) and compared the survival time for reaching severe visual impairment (<20/200 Snellen or >1.0 logarithm of the minimum angle of resolution [logMAR]). Central retinal atrophy area was quantified independently by 2 experienced graders using semiautomated software and compared between siblings. Both graders performed qualitative assessment of FAF and spectral-domain (SD) OCT images to identify phenotypic differences.

Main Outcome Measures: Differences in age at onset, disease duration-matched BCVA, time to severe visual impairment development, FAF atrophy area, FAF patterns, and genotypes.

Results: Substantial differences in age at onset were present in 5 of 17 families, ranging from 13 to 39 years. Median BCVA at baseline was 0.60 logMAR (range, -0.20 to 2.30 logMAR; Snellen equivalent, 20/80 [range, 20/12-hand movements]) in the right eye and 0.50 logMAR (range, -0.20 to 2.30 logMAR; Snellen equivalent, 20/63 [range, 20/12-hand movements]) in the left eye. Disease duration-matched BCVA was investigated in 12 of 17 families, and the median difference was 0.41 logMAR (range, 0.00-1.10 logMAR) for the right eye and 0.41 logMAR (range, 0.00-1.08 logMAR) for the left eye. We observed notable differences in time to severe visual impairment development in 7 families, ranging from 1 to 29 years. Median central retinal atrophy area was 11.38 mm in the right eye (range, 1.98-44.78 mm) and 10.59 mm in the left eye (range, 1.61-40.59 mm) and highly comparable between siblings. Similarly, qualitative FAF and SD OCT phenotypes were highly comparable between siblings.

Conclusions: Phenotypic discordance between siblings with STGD1 carrying the same ABCA4 variants is a prevalent phenomenon. Although the FAF phenotypes are highly comparable between siblings, functional outcomes differ substantially. This complicates both sibling-based prognosis and genotype-phenotype correlations and has important implications for patient care and management.
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December 2019

Deep-intronic ABCA4 variants explain missing heritability in Stargardt disease and allow correction of splice defects by antisense oligonucleotides.

Genet Med 2019 08 15;21(8):1751-1760. Epub 2019 Jan 15.

Department of Human Genetics, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Purpose: Using exome sequencing, the underlying variants in many persons with autosomal recessive diseases remain undetected. We explored autosomal recessive Stargardt disease (STGD1) as a model to identify the missing heritability.

Methods: Sequencing of ABCA4 was performed in 8 STGD1 cases with one variant and p.Asn1868Ile in trans, 25 cases with one variant, and 3 cases with no ABCA4 variant. The effect of intronic variants was analyzed using in vitro splice assays in HEK293T cells and patient-derived fibroblasts. Antisense oligonucleotides were used to correct splice defects.

Results: In 24 of the probands (67%), one known and five novel deep-intronic variants were found. The five novel variants resulted in messenger RNA pseudoexon inclusions, due to strengthening of cryptic splice sites or by disrupting a splicing silencer motif. Variant c.769-784C>T showed partial insertion of a pseudoexon and was found in cis with c.5603A>T (p.Asn1868Ile), so its causal role could not be fully established. Variant c.4253+43G>A resulted in partial skipping of exon 28. Remarkably, antisense oligonucleotides targeting the aberrant splice processes resulted in (partial) correction of all splicing defects.

Conclusion: Our data demonstrate the importance of assessing noncoding variants in genetic diseases, and show the great potential of splice modulation therapy for deep-intronic variants.
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August 2019

Author Response: Penetrance of the ABCA4 p.Asn1868Ile Allele in Stargardt Disease.

Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2018 11;59(13):5566-5568

Department of Human Genetics, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

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November 2018

The Common ABCA4 Variant p.Asn1868Ile Shows Nonpenetrance and Variable Expression of Stargardt Disease When Present in trans With Severe Variants.

Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2018 07;59(8):3220-3231

Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Purpose: To assess the occurrence and the disease expression of the common p.Asn1868Ile variant in patients with Stargardt disease (STGD1) harboring known, monoallelic causal ABCA4 variants.

Methods: The coding and noncoding regions of ABCA4 were sequenced in 67 and 63 STGD1 probands respectively, harboring monoallelic ABCA4 variants. In case p.Asn1868Ile was detected, segregation analysis was performed whenever possible. Probands and affected siblings harboring p.Asn1868Ile without additional variants in cis were clinically evaluated retrospectively. Two asymptomatic siblings carrying the same ABCA4 variants as their probands were clinically examined. The penetrance of p.Asn1868Ile was calculated using allele frequency data of ABCA4 variants in non-Finnish European individuals.

Results: The p.Asn1868Ile variant was found in cis with known variants in 14/67 probands. In 27/67 probands, we identified p.Asn1868Ile without additional variants in cis, in combination with known, mainly severe ABCA4 variants. In 23/27 probands, the trans configuration was established. Among 27 probands and 6/7 STGD1 siblings carrying p.Asn1868Ile, 42% manifested late-onset disease (>44 years). We additionally identified four asymptomatic relatives carrying a combination of a severe variant and p.Asn1868Ile; ophthalmologic examination in two persons did not reveal STGD1. Based on ABCA4 allele frequency data, we conservatively estimated the penetrance of p.Asn1868Ile, when present in trans with a severe variant, to be below 5%.

Conclusions: A significant fraction of genetically unexplained STGD1 cases carries p.Asn1868Ile as a second variant. Our findings suggest exceptional differences in disease expression or even nonpenetrance of this ABCA4 variant, pointing toward an important role for genetic or environmental modifiers in STGD1.
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July 2018