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Am J Med Genet. 1990 May;36(1):45-52.

Detection of heterozygotes for recessive alleles. Homocyst(e)inemia: paradigm of pitfalls in phenotypes.

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deBelle Laboratory for Biochemical Genetics, McGill University-Montreal Children's Hospital Research Institute, Quebec, Canada.


Excess homocysteine in body fluids has been implicated as a factor in the pathogenesis of occlusive vascular disease (peripheral and cerebrovascular arterial disease, and perhaps coronary artery disease). Heterozygotes for inborn errors of homocysteine metabolism (transsulfuration or remethylation pathways) are much more frequent than are homozygotes/compounds. If heterozygotes are at increased risk (a question not addressed here), it is of interest to know whether they can be identified consistently by a "screening" measurement of blood homocyst(e)ine. We used hyperhomocyst(e)inemia (cystathioninemia beta-synthase deficiency) as a test case. From reviews of metabolite values in blood samples either fasting (11 articles) or after a methionine load (8 articles), and of measures of enzyme activity (12 articles), it is apparent that (1) The heterozygous phenotype cannot be identified consistently by any single measure (there is overlap with normal values); and (2) the exaggerated gene dosage effect (negative allelic complementation) present in most heterozygotes does not assist their classification. The failure of enzyme assay to distinguish heterozygotes consistently (relative to normal values) may reflect allelic heterogeneity. The failure of metabolic values to identify heterozygotes consistently reflects the local and global properties of the homeostatic system controlling the homocysteine pool size. The problem described here is a particular example of a general one in physiological and medical genetics, namely detection of heterozygotes for recessive alleles, affecting metabolic homeostasis, for purposes of medical intervention and for genetic counselling.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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