To determine if exfoliation syndrome is associated with rare, protein-changing variants predicted to impair protein function.
A 2-stage, case-control, whole-exome sequencing association study with a discovery cohort and 2 independently ascertained validation cohorts. Study participants from 14 countries were enrolled between February 1999 and December 2019. The date of last clinical follow-up was December 2019. Affected individuals had exfoliation material on anterior segment structures of at least 1 eye as visualized by slit lamp examination. Unaffected individuals had no signs of exfoliation syndrome.
Rare, coding-sequence genetic variants predicted to be damaging by bioinformatic algorithms trained to recognize alterations that impair protein function.
The primary outcome was the presence of exfoliation syndrome. Exome-wide significance for detected variants was defined as P < 2.5 × 10-6. The secondary outcomes included biochemical enzymatic assays and gene expression analyses.
The discovery cohort included 4028 participants with exfoliation syndrome (median age, 78 years [interquartile range, 73-83 years]; 2377 [59.0%] women) and 5638 participants without exfoliation syndrome (median age, 72 years [interquartile range, 65-78 years]; 3159 [56.0%] women). In the discovery cohort, persons with exfoliation syndrome, compared with those without exfoliation syndrome, were significantly more likely to carry damaging CYP39A1 variants (1.3% vs 0.30%, respectively; odds ratio, 3.55 [95% CI, 2.07-6.10]; P = 6.1 × 10-7). This outcome was validated in 2 independent cohorts. The first validation cohort included 2337 individuals with exfoliation syndrome (median age, 74 years; 1132 women; n = 1934 with demographic data) and 2813 individuals without exfoliation syndrome (median age, 72 years; 1287 women; n = 2421 with demographic data). The second validation cohort included 1663 individuals with exfoliation syndrome (median age, 75 years; 587 women; n = 1064 with demographic data) and 3962 individuals without exfoliation syndrome (median age, 74 years; 951 women; n = 1555 with demographic data). Of the individuals from both validation cohorts, 5.2% with exfoliation syndrome carried CYP39A1 damaging alleles vs 3.1% without exfoliation syndrome (odds ratio, 1.82 [95% CI, 1.47-2.26]; P < .001). Biochemical assays classified 34 of 42 damaging CYP39A1 alleles as functionally deficient (median reduction in enzymatic activity compared with wild-type CYP39A1, 94.4% [interquartile range, 78.7%-98.2%] for the 34 deficient variants). CYP39A1 transcript expression was 47% lower (95% CI, 30%-64% lower; P < .001) in ciliary body tissues from individuals with exfoliation syndrome compared with individuals without exfoliation syndrome.
In this whole-exome sequencing case-control study, presence of exfoliation syndrome was significantly associated with carriage of functionally deficient CYP39A1 sequence variants. Further research is needed to understand the clinical implications of these findings.