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J Natl Cancer Inst. 1999 Feb 17;91(4):339-46.

Association between nonrandom X-chromosome inactivation and BRCA1 mutation in germline DNA of patients with ovarian cancer.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City 52242-1009, USA.



Most human female cells contain two X chromosomes, only one of which is active. The process of X-chromosome inactivation, which occurs early in development, is usually random, producing tissues with equal mixtures of cells having active X chromosomes of either maternal or paternal origin. However, nonrandom inactivation may occur in a subset of females. If a tumor suppressor gene were located on the X chromosome and if females with a germline mutation in one copy of that suppressor gene experienced nonrandom X-chromosome inactivation, then some or all of the tissues of such women might lack the wild-type suppressor gene function. This scenario could represent a previously unrecognized mechanism for development of hereditary cancers. We investigated whether such a mechanism might contribute to the development of hereditary ovarian cancers.


Patterns of X-chromosome inactivation were determined by means of polymerase chain reaction amplification of the CAG-nucleotide repeat of the androgen receptor (AR) gene after methylation-sensitive restriction endonuclease digestion of blood mononuclear cell DNA from patients with invasive (n = 213) or borderline (n = 44) ovarian cancer and control subjects without a personal or family history of cancer (n = 50). BRCA1 gene status was determined by means of single-strand conformational polymorphism analysis and DNA sequencing. All statistical tests were two-sided.


Among individuals informative for the AR locus, nonrandom X-chromosome inactivation was found in the DNA of 53% of those with invasive cancer versus 28% of those with borderline cancer (P = .005) and 33% of healthy control subjects (P = .016). Nonrandom X-chromosome inactivation can be a heritable trait. Nine of 11 AR-informative carriers of germline BRCA1 mutations demonstrated nonrandom X-chromosome inactivation (.0002 < P < .008, for simultaneous occurrence of both).


Nonrandom X-chromosome inactivation may be a predisposing factor for the development of invasive, but not borderline, ovarian cancer.

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