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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Jul 8;94(14):7452-7.

Evolution of the Friedreich's ataxia trinucleotide repeat expansion: founder effect and premutations.

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Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale/Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/Université Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg, France.


Friedreich's ataxia, the most frequent inherited ataxia, is caused, in the vast majority of cases, by large GAA repeat expansions in the first intron of the frataxin gene. The normal sequence corresponds to a moderately polymorphic trinucleotide repeat with bimodal size distribution. Small normal alleles have approximately eight to nine repeats whereas a more heterogeneous mode of large normal alleles ranges from 16 to 34 GAA. The latter class accounts for approximately 17% of normal alleles. To identify the origin of the expansion mutation, we analyzed linkage disequilibrium between expansion mutations or normal alleles and a haplotype of five polymorphic markers within or close to the frataxin gene; 51% of the expansions were associated with a single haplotype, and the other expansions were associated with haplotypes that could be related to the major one by mutation at a polymorphic marker or by ancient recombination. Of interest, the major haplotype associated with expansion is also the major haplotype associated with the larger alleles in the normal size range and was almost never found associated with the smaller normal alleles. The results indicate that most if not all large normal alleles derive from a single founder chromosome and that they represent a reservoir for larger expansion events, possibly through "premutation" intermediates. Indeed, we found two such alleles (42 and 60 GAA) that underwent cataclysmic expansion to pathological range in a single generation. This stepwise evolution to large trinucleotide expansions already was suggested for myotonic dystrophy and fragile X syndrome and may relate to a common mutational mechanism, despite sequence motif differences.

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