Advances in DNA sequencing technologies have revolutionised rare disease diagnostics and have led to a dramatic increase in the volume of available genomic data. A key challenge that needs to be overcome to realise the full potential of these technologies is that of precisely predicting the effect of genetic variants on molecular and organismal phenotypes. Notably, despite recent progress, there is still a lack of robust in silico tools that accurately assign clinical significance to variants. Genetic alterations in the CACNA1F gene are the commonest cause of X-linked incomplete Congenital Stationary Night Blindness (iCSNB), a condition associated with non-progressive visual impairment. We combined genetic and homology modelling data to produce CACNA1F-vp, an in silico model that differentiates disease-implicated from benign missense CACNA1F changes. CACNA1F-vp predicts variant effects on the structure of the CACNA1F encoded protein (a calcium channel) using parameters based upon changes in amino acid properties; these include size, charge, hydrophobicity, and position. The model produces an overall score for each variant that can be used to predict its pathogenicity. CACNA1F-vp outperformed four other tools in identifying disease-implicated variants (area under receiver operating characteristic and precision recall curves = 0.84; Matthews correlation coefficient = 0.52) using a tenfold cross-validation technique. We consider this protein-specific model to be a robust stand-alone diagnostic classifier that could be replicated in other proteins and could enable precise and timely diagnosis.

References

PubMed