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Mol Cytogenet. 2008 Apr 8;1:5. doi: 10.1186/1755-8166-1-5.

An improved Diagnostic PCR Assay for identification of Cryptic Heterozygosity for CGG Triplet Repeat Alleles in the Fragile X Gene (FMR1).

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  • 1Cyto-Molecular Diagnostics Research Group, Melbourne, Australia.



Fragile X syndrome (OMIM #300624) is the most common, recognised, heritable cause of mental retardation. Widespread testing is warranted by the relatively high frequency of the disorder, the benefits of early detection and the identification of related carriers whose offspring are at a 1 in 2 risk of inheriting the expanded pathogenic mutation. However, cost-effective screening of mentally retarded individuals has been impeded by the lack of a single, simple laboratory test. Currently, Fragile X syndrome can be excluded in males and a majority of females using a simple high-throughput PCR test. Due to the limited sensitivity of the PCR test, we find in our diagnostic service that approximately 40% of females appear homozygous and a labour intensive and expensive Southern blot test is required to distinguish these from females carrying one normal allele and an expanded allele.


We describe an improved PCR test which displays a high level of precision allowing alleles differing by a single triplet to be resolved. Using the new assay, we detected 46/83 (53%) cryptic heterozygotes previously labelled as homozygotes. The assay also extended the range of repeats amplifiable, up to 170 CGG repeats in males and 130 CGG repeats in females. Combined with the high precision, the assay also improves discrimination of normal (CGG repeats < 45) from grey zone (45 < CGG repeats < 54) alleles and grey zone alleles from small premutations (55 < CGG repeats < 100).


Use of this PCR test provides significantly improved precision and amplification of longer alleles. The number of follow-up Southern blot tests required is reduced (up to 50%) with consequent improvement in turnaround time and cost.

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