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Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2012 Jul;18(6):711-6. doi: 10.1016/j.parkreldis.2012.03.019. Epub 2012 Apr 19.

Phenocopies in families with essential tremor and restless legs syndrome challenge Mendelian laws. Epigenetics might provide answers.

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Department of Clinical Neurology, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.


Essential Tremor (ET) and Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) are both highly heritable neurological disorders. The frequent occurrence of multi-incident families suggests the existence of highly penetrant alleles. However, linkage analyses and positional cloning approaches performed within the last 10 years essentially failed to identify responsible mutations. Several loci were found, but their relevance was questioned given the occurrence of suspected phenocopies in many of those families. Remarkably, in some ET and RLS families with an apparent autosomal dominant mode of transmission, the proportion of affected individuals was higher than the expected 50% and therefore suggests a non-mendelian inheritance in some cases. In fact, there is increasing evidence that epigenetic modifications, which refer to changes in gene expression without changes in DNA sequence, can be transmitted to the next generation. Moreover, epigenetic information can be transferred from one allele of a gene to the other allele of the same gene; if then inherited to the next generation, the offspring consequently presents phenotypic properties related to the untransmitted allele. This phenomenon known as paramutation is well documented in plants and has recently been shown to occur also in mammals. Here, I explore the possibility that it is the epigenetic and not only the genetic state which confers disease risk in families. Inheritance of epigenetic mutations along with paramutational events have the potential to explain the non-mendelian features in the genetics of both diseases.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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