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Clin Chem. 2012 Mar;58(3):590-8. doi: 10.1373/clinchem.2011.177626. Epub 2012 Jan 10.

Fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) intron 1 methylation in blood predicts verbal cognitive impairment in female carriers of expanded FMR1 alleles: evidence from a pilot study.

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Victorian Clinical Genetics Services, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia.



Cognitive status in females with mutations in the FMR1 (fragile X mental retardation 1) gene is highly variable. A biomarker would be of value for predicting which individuals were liable to develop cognitive impairment and could benefit from early intervention. A detailed analysis of CpG sites bridging exon 1 and intron 1 of FMR1, known as fragile X-related epigenetic element 2 (FREE2), suggests that a simple blood test could identify these individuals.


Study participants included 74 control females (<40 CGG repeats), 62 premutation (PM) females (55-200 CGG repeats), and 18 full-mutation (FM) females assessed with Wechsler intelligence quotient (IQ) tests. We used MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry to determine the methylation status of FREE2 CpG sites that best identified low-functioning (IQ <70) FM females (>200 CGG repeats), compared the results with those for Southern blot FMR1 activation ratios, and related these assessments to the level of production of the FMR1 protein product in blood.


A methylation analysis of intron 1 CpG sites 10-12 showed the highest diagnostic sensitivity (100%) and specificity (98%) of all the molecular measures tested for detecting females with a standardized verbal IQ of <70 among the study participants. In the group consisting of only FM females, methylation of these sites was significantly correlated with full-scale IQ, verbal IQ, and performance IQ. Several verbal subtest scores showed strong correlation with the methylation of these sites (P = 1.2 × 10(-5)) after adjustment for multiple measures.


The data suggest that hypermethylation of the FMR1 intron 1 sites in blood is predictive of cognitive impairment in FM females, with implications for improved fragile X syndrome diagnostics in young children and screening of the newborn population.

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