Applying whole-exome sequencing (WES) for the diagnosis of diseases in children has shown significant diagnostic strength compared with chromosomal microarray. WES may also have the potential of adding clinically relevant prenatal information in cases where a fetus is found to have structural anomalies. We present results from the first fetal exomes performed in a tertiary center in Denmark.
Material and methods
Couples/expectant parents were included in Central Denmark Region from July 2016 to March 2019. Inclusion was not systematic, but where one or more fetal malformations or severe fetal hydrops were detected, and a specific diagnosis had not been obtained by chromosomal microarray. WES was performed in ongoing pregnancies (N = 11), after intrauterine demise (N = 5), or after termination of pregnancy based on ultrasound findings (N = 19). In most cases, a trio format was applied comprising fetal and parental DNA.
WES was performed in 35 highly selected fetal cases. Pathogenic variants, or variants likely to explain the phenotype, were detected in 9/35 (26%). Variants of uncertain significance were detected in 7/35 (20%) and there was one secondary finding (3%). Out of the 11 ongoing pregnancies, four reached a genetic diagnosis (36%). Detection rate was highest in cases of multisystem anomalies (7/13, 54%). WES was completed in all three trimesters and both autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive and X-linked inheritance were revealed.
We present data from 35 cases of exome sequencing applied in a setting of fetal malformations. Importantly, though, we wish to share our personal experiences with implementing WES into a prenatal setting. As a medical society, we must continue to share what we do not understand, what went wrong, what is difficult, and what we do not agree upon. A common understanding and language are warranted. We also advocate that more research is needed concerning the clinical value, as well as costs and patient perspectives, of using WES in pregnancy. We believe that WES will lead to improved prenatal and perinatal care.