Analysis of Genetically Complex Epilepsies


  • Ruth Ottman

    1. G. H. Sergievsky Center and Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, and Epidemiology of Brain Disorders Research Department, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY, U.S.A.
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Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Ruth Ottman, G.H. Sergievsky Center, Columbia University 630 W, New York, NY 10032, U.S.A. E-mail:


Summary:  During the last decade, great progress has been made in the discovery of genes that influence risk for epilepsy. However, these gene discoveries have been in epilepsies with Mendelian modes of inheritance, which comprise only a tiny fraction of all epilepsy. Most people with epilepsy have no affected relatives, suggesting that the great majority of all epilepsies are genetically complex: multiple genes contribute to their etiology, none of which has a major effect on disease risk. Gene discovery in the genetically complex epilepsies is a formidable task. It is unclear which epilepsy phenotypes are most advantageous to study, and chromosomal localization and mutation detection are much more difficult than in Mendelian epilepsies. Association studies are very promising for the identification of complex epilepsy genes, but we are still in the earliest stages of their application in the epilepsies. Future studies should employ very large sample sizes to ensure adequate statistical power, clinical phenotyping methods of the highest quality, designs and analytic techniques that control for population stratification, and state-of-the-art molecular methods. Collaborative studies are essential to achieve these goals.