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Ann Med. 2005;37(3):179-85.

Molecular genetics of adult-type hypolactasia.

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Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Finland.


Adult-type hypolactasia (lactase non-persistence; primary lactose malabsorption) is characterized by the down-regulation of the lactase enzyme activity in the intestinal wall after weaning. The down-regulation is genetically determined and a mutation has occurred that has made part of mankind tolerate milk (lactase persistence). A DNA-variant, single nucleotide polymorphism C/T-13910 located 13 910 base pairs (bp) upstream of the lactase gene (LCT) at chromosome 2q21-22 has been shown to associate with the lactase persistence/non-persistence trait both in family and case-control studies. The C/T-13910 variant is located in a non-coding region in the genome in intron 13 of the minichromosome maintenance type 6 gene (MCM6). Significant correlation between the C/T-13910-variant and lactase activity in the intestinal biopsy specimens has been demonstrated. Molecular epidemiological studies on the prevalence of the C/C-13910 genotype associated with low lactase activity are in agreement with the prevalence figures for adult type hypolactasia in>70 diverse ethnic groups studied. Recent functional studies have suggested that this variant has an enhancer effect over the lactase gene. Based on the biochemical, functional, genetic and molecular epidemiological studies of the C/T-13910 variant, genetic testing for adult type hypolactasia has been introduced into clinical practice in Finland. Identification of the genetic change has highlighted the role of non-coding variants in the regulation of common genes and created new tools to study the mechanism of lactase enzyme activation.

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