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J Formos Med Assoc. 1998 Jan;97(1):5-15.

Molecular study and prenatal diagnosis of alpha- and beta-thalassemias in Chinese.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, College of Medicine, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan.


Thalassemia is one of the most common single gene diseases worldwide. Populations in southern China and Taiwan have high prevalence rates of alpha- and beta-thalassemias. This review summarizes the current status of molecular studies, carrier screening, and prenatal diagnosis of thalassemia in Chinese. There are three genotypes of alpha-thalassemia 1 and at least six of alpha-thalassemia 2 in Chinese. For alpha-thalassemia 1, the South-East Asian deletion is the most common, followed by the Thai then Philippino deletions. For alpha-thalassemia 2, the rightward deletion is the most common, followed by the leftward deletion, and the nondeletional defects Hb Constant Spring and Hb Quong Sze. Twenty-eight different beta-thalassemia mutations have been reported. Four mutations, IVS-II-654 (C-->T), codons 41/42 frameshift (-TCTT), and nonsense codons 17 (A-->T) and -28 (A-->G), account for more than 90% of mutant alleles. For detection of alpha-thalassemia, polymerase chain reaction-related techniques are mainly used. Southern blot hybridization is still useful, especially for prenatal diagnosis. For detection of beta-thalassemia mutations, analysis of amplification-created restriction sites and reverse dot blot hybridization have been extensively used. In Taiwan, a national screening program incorporating hematological and molecular biological methods for thalassemia detection in pregnant women has been in progress for 5 years. Prenatal diagnosis has been performed in more than 1,800 pregnancies, including 1,500 cases at risk for homozygous alpha-thalassemia 1 and 300 for beta-thalassemia major, resulting in early prenatal diagnosis and termination of pregnancies affected with homozygous alpha-thalassemia 1 and an approximately 70% decrease in the number of newborns affected with beta-thalassemia major. In mainland China, only one large-scale screening program is in place. Characterization of undefined alleles, a higher awareness of the disease among physicians and the general public, and improvement of the service network will be important for early prenatal diagnosis and prevention of the disease in the future.

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