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Mol Genet Metab. 2000 Sep-Oct;71(1-2):10-8.

Synergistic heterozygosity: disease resulting from multiple partial defects in one or more metabolic pathways.

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  • 1Department of Medical Genetics, Mayo Clinic and Foundation, 200 First Street, SW, Rochester, Minnesota, 55905, USA.


Inborn errors of metabolism show considerable variation in the severity of symptoms. This is often ascribed to the differential effects of specific mutations on gene/enzyme function; however, such genotype/phenotype correlations are usually imprecise. In addition, in some patients with clinical and biochemical findings consistent with a defect in a particular metabolic pathway, it is ultimately impossible to arrive at a precise enzymatic diagnosis. In this situation, we have increasingly been identifying concurrent partial defects in more than one pathway, or at multiple steps in one pathway. In this study, we present the clinical, biochemical, and molecular findings from several patients showing multiple partial defects in energy metabolism. These patients show clinical symptoms consistent with a defect in the affected pathways even though they do not have a complete deficiency in any one enzyme. We hypothesize that such patients are exhibiting clinically significant reductions in energy metabolism related to the compound effects of these partial defects, a phenomenon we term "synergistic heterozygosity." Based on the frequencies of known disorders of energy metabolism, we propose that this may represent a previously unrecognized, relatively common mechanism of disease of potentially great clinical relevance.

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