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Genet Test. 2004 Summer;8(2):174-80.

Heterozygosity for Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff diseases in non-Jewish Americans with ancestry from Ireland, Great Britain, or Italy.

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  • 1Department of Biology/Genetic Counseling, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02454, USA.


Previous reports have found that non-Jewish Americans with ancestry from Ireland have an increased frequency of heterozygosity for Tay-Sachs disease (TSD), although frequency estimates are substantially different. Our goal in this study was to determine the frequency of heterozygosity for TSD and Sandhoff diseases (SD) among Irish Americans, as well as in persons of English, Scottish, and/or Welsh ancestry and in individuals with Italian heritage, who were referred for determination of their heterozygosity status and who had no known family history of TSD or SD or of heterozygosity for these conditions. Of 610 nonpregnant subjects with Irish background, 24 TSD heterozygotes were identified by biochemical testing, corresponding to a heterozygote frequency of 1 in 25 (4%; 95% CI, 1/39-1/17). In comparison, of 322 nonpregnant individuals with ancestry from England, Scotland, or Wales, two TSD heterozygotes were identified (1 in 161 or 0.62%; 95% CI, 1/328-1/45), and three TSD heterozygotes were ascertained from 436 nonpregnant individuals with Italian heritage (1 in 145 or 0.69%; 95% CI, 1/714-1/50). Samples from 21 Irish heterozygotes were analyzed for HEXA gene mutations. Two (9.5%) Irish heterozygotes had the lethal + 1 IVS-9 G --> A mutation, whereas 9 (42.8%) had a benign pseudodeficiency mutation. No mutation was found in 10 (47.6%) heterozygotes. These data allow for a frequency estimate of deleterious alleles for TSD among Irish Americans of 1 in 305 (95% CI, 1/2517-1/85) to 1 in 41 (95% CI, 1/72-1/35), depending on whether one, respectively, excludes or includes enzyme-defined heterozygotes lacking a defined deleterious mutation. Pseudodeficiency mutations were identified in both of the heterozygotes with ancestry from other countries in the British Isles, suggesting that individuals with ancestry from these countries do not have an increased rate of TSD heterozygosity. Four SD heterozygotes were found among individuals of Italian descent, a frequency of 1 in 109 (0.92%; 95% CI, 1/400-1/43). This frequency was higher than those for other populations, including those with Irish (1 in 305 or 0.33%; 95% CI, 1/252-1/85), English, Scottish, or Welsh (1 in 161 or 0.62%; 95% CI, 1/1328-1/45), or Ashkenazi Jewish (1 in 281 or 0.36%; 95% CI, 1/1361-1/96) ancestry. Individuals of Irish or Italian heritage might benefit from genetic counseling for TSD and SD, respectively.

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