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DNA Repair (Amst). 2004 Aug-Sep;3(8-9):1187-96.

Ataxia-telangiectasia, an evolving phenotype.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1732, USA.


Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, with onset in early childhood and a frequency of approximately 1 in 40,000 births in the United States. A-T is seen among all races and is most prominent among ethnic groups with a high frequency of consanguinity. The syndrome includes: progressive cerebellar ataxia, dysarthric speech, oculomotor apraxia, choreoathetosis and, later, oculocutaneous telangiectasia. Immunodeficiency with sinopulmonary infections, cancer susceptibility (usually lymphoid), and sensitivity to ionizing radiation are also characteristic. Laboratory findings include: (1) elevated alphafetoprotein (AFP), (2) cerebellar atrophy on magnetic resonance imaging, (3) reciprocal translocations between chromosomes 7 and 14 in lymphocytes, (4) absence or dysfunction of the ATM protein, (5) radiosensitivity, as demonstrated by colony survival assay (CSA), and (6) mutations in the ATM gene. The latter are usually truncating or splicing mutations; approximately 10% are missense mutations. Mutations are found across the entire gene. Almost all recurring mutations are found on unique haplotypes that represent founder effects and ancestral relationships between patients. In addition to radiosensitivity and sensitivity to radiomimetic chemicals, the phenotype of A-T cells includes defective damage-induced activation of the cell cycle checkpoints at G1, S and G2/M. With the aid of molecular testing, A-T can now be distinguished from other autosomal recessive cerebellar ataxias (ARCAs) such as Friedreich ataxia, Mre11 deficiency (AT-like disease), and the oculomotor apraxias 1 (aprataxin deficiency) and 2 (senataxin deficiency). Other "A-T variants" include: (1) Nijmegen breakage syndrome (NBS) or nibrin/Nbs1 deficiency, with microcephaly and mental retardation but without ataxia, apraxia, or telangiectasia, and 2) A-T(Fresno), a phenotype that combines features of both NBS and A-T, with mutations in the ATM gene. The term "A-T variant" has a diminishing usefulness.

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