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J Med Genet. Apr 1996; 33(4): 328–332.
PMCID: PMC1050584

Phenotypic expression in von Hippel-Lindau disease: correlations with germline VHL gene mutations.


Von Hippel-Lindau disease is an autosomal dominantly inherited familial cancer syndrome predisposing to retinal and central nervous system haemangioblastomas, renal cell carcinoma, and phaeochromocytoma. VHL disease shows variable expression and interfamilial differences in predisposition to phaeochromocytoma. In a previous study of 65 VHL kindreds with defined VHL mutations we detected significant differences between VHL families with and without phaeochromocytoma such that missense mutations were more common and large deletions or protein truncating mutations less frequent in phaeochromocytoma positive families. To investigate the significance and cause of this association further, we studied 138 VHL kindreds for germline mutations and calculated the age related tumour risks for different classes of VHL gene mutations. Using SSCP, heteroduplex and Southern analysis we identified a germline VHL gene mutation in 101 families (73%). Direct sequencing of the VHL coding region further increased the mutation detection rate to 81%. In addition to precise presymptomatic diagnosis, identification of a VHL gene mutation can provide an indication of the likely phenotype. We found that large deletions and mutations predicted to cause a truncated protein were associated with a lower risk of phaeochromocytoma (6% and 9% at 30 and 50 years, respectively) than missense mutations (40% and 59%, respectively) and that missense mutations at codon 167 were associated with a high risk of phaeochromocytoma (53% and 82% at ages 30 and 50 years). Cumulative probabilities of renal cell carcinoma did not differ between the two groups (deletion/ truncation mutations: 8% and 60%, and missense mutations: 10% and 64% at ages 30 and 50 years, respectively). Age related risks for haemangioblastoma were similar in the two mutation groups, with the age related risks of cerebellar haemangioblastoma slightly less (35% and 64% v 38% and 75% at ages 30 and 50 years) and retinal haemangioblastoma slightly higher (45% and 72% v 37% and 64% at ages 30 and 50 years) in the missense mutation group than in the deletion/protein truncation group. These results provide valuable data for counselling VHL families and indicate that specific VHL mutations may be associated with different tumour susceptibility risks. There was no evidence of a generalised increase in age related tumour risks for missense mutations, suggesting that missense mutations predisposing to phaeochromocytoma have tissue specific effects, possibly because the VHL protein has several functions, the importance of which varies from tissue to tissue, or because the proteins which interact with VHL differ between different tissues.

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Selected References

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