Hemimegalencephaly, a paradigm for somatic postzygotic neurodevelopmental disorders

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Purpose of review

Combining human genomics and molecular biology, recent studies have made pivotal progress toward understanding the cause of hemimegalencephaly (HME) and other cerebral megalencephaly syndromes. The present article highlights recent advances of the genetic cause of these conditions, and considers the role of somatic postzygotic genetic lesions in brain maldevelopment.

Recent findings

Studies over the past 12 months have identified de-novo somatic mutations as one possible cause in HME. The gene mutations involve components of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)–AKT (also known as protein kinase B)–mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway and include PIK3CA, PIK3R2, AKT3, and MTOR. These mutations were identified by comparing genomic data obtained from surgically resected brain tissue with nondiseased tissue, and by single-neuron sequencing in combination with molecular biology techniques. The association between the somatic mutations and downstream activation of the PI3K–mTOR pathway suggests that HME is a neurodevelopmental disease caused by gain-of-function activation of the PI3K–AKT–mTOR pathway.


The studies reviewed suggest that somatic mutations of the PI3K–AKT–mTOR pathway limited to the brain may represent one cause of HME. Dysregulation of this pathway has possible therapeutic potential in the identification of HME. Somatic mutations may be an important yet underappreciated disease mechanism in developmental neurological diseases.

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