Joubert syndrome (JS) is a recessively inherited ciliopathy, characterized by a specific cerebellar and brainstem malformation recognizable on brain imaging as the “molar tooth sign” (MTS). Clinical signs include hypotonia, developmental delay, breathing abnormalities, and ocular motor apraxia. Older patients develop ataxia, intellectual impairment, and variable organ involvement. JS is genetically heterogeneous, with over 40 ciliary genes overall accounting for 65–75% cases. Thus, in recent years, the genetic diagnosis of JS has been based on the analysis of next-generation sequencing targeted gene panels. Since clinical features are unspecific and undistinguishable from other neurodevelopmental syndromes, the recognition of the MTS is crucial to address the patient to the appropriate genetic testing. However, the MTS is not always properly diagnosed, resulting either in false negative diagnoses (patients with the MTS not addressed to JS genetic testing) or in false positive diagnoses (patients with a different brain malformation wrongly addressed to JS genetic testing). Here, we present six cases referred for JS genetic testing based on inappropriate recognition of MTS. While the analysis of JS-related genes was negative, whole-exome sequencing (WES) disclosed pathogenic variants in other genes causative of distinct brain malformative conditions with partial clinical and neuroradiological overlap with JS. Reassessment of brain MRIs from five patients by a panel of expert pediatric neuroradiologists blinded to the genetic diagnosis excluded the MTS in all cases but one, which raised conflicting interpretations. This study highlights that the diagnostic yield of NGS-based targeted panels is strictly related to the accuracy of the diagnostic referral based on clinical and imaging assessment and that WES has an advantage over targeted panel analysis when the diagnostic suspicion is not straightforward.
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