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Special Communication
Clinician's Corner
April 10, 2013

New Approaches to Molecular Diagnosis

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Genetics, University of Alabama at Birmingham (Dr Korf); Laboratory for Molecular Medicine, Partners Healthcare Center for Personalized Genetic Medicine, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Dr Rehm).

JAMA. 2013;309(14):1511-1521. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.3239

Advances in understanding the molecular basis of rare and common disorders, as well as in the technology of DNA analysis, are rapidly changing the landscape of molecular genetic and genomic testing. High-resolution molecular cytogenetic analysis can now detect deletions or duplications of DNA of a few hundred thousand nucleotides, well below the resolution of the light microscope. Diagnostic testing for “single-gene” disorders can be done by targeted analysis for specific mutations, by sequencing a specific gene to scan for mutations, or by analyzing multiple genes in which mutation may lead to a similar phenotype. The advent of massively parallel next-generation sequencing facilitates the analysis of multiple genes and now is being used to sequence the coding regions of the genome (the exome) for clinical testing. Exome sequencing requires bioinformatic analysis of the thousands of variants that are identified to find one that is contributing to the pathology; there is also a possibility of incidental identification of other medically significant variants, which may complicate genetic counseling. DNA testing can also be used to identify variants that influence drug metabolism or interaction of a drug with its cellular target, allowing customization of choice of drug and dosage. Exome and genome sequencing are being applied to identify specific gene changes in cancer cells to guide therapy, to identify inherited cancer risk, and to estimate prognosis. Genomic testing may be used to identify risk factors for common disorders, although the clinical utility of such testing is unclear. Genetic and genomic tests may raise new ethical, legal, and social issues, some of which may be addressed by existing genetic nondiscrimination legislation, but which also must be addressed in the course of genetic counseling. The purpose of this article is to assist physicians in recognizing where new approaches to genetic and genomic testing may be applied clinically and in being aware of the principles of interpretation of test results.