Genetic linkage data have shown that alterations of the BRCA1 gene are responsible for the majority of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. BRCA1 germline mutations, however, are found less frequently than expected. Mutation detection strategies, which are generally based on the polymerase chain reaction, therefore focus on point and small gene alterations. These approaches do not allow for the detection of large gene rearrangements, which also can be involved in BRCA1 alterations. Indeed, a few of them, spread over the entire BRCA1 gene, have been detected recently by Southern blotting or transcript analysis. We have developed an alternative strategy allowing a panoramic view of the BRCA1 gene, based on dynamic molecular combing and the design of a full four-color bar code of the BRCA1 region. The strategy was tested with the study of four large BRCA1 rearrangements previously reported. In addition, when screening a series of 10 breast and ovarian cancer families negatively tested for point mutation in BRCA1/2, we found an unreported 17-kb BRCA1 duplication encompassing exons 3 to 8. The detection of rearrangements as small as 2 to 6 kb with respect to the normal size of the studied fragment is achieved when the BRCA1 region is divided into 10 fragments. In addition, as the BRCA1 bar code is a morphologic approach, the direct observation of complex and likely underreported rearrangements, such as inversions and insertions, becomes possible.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.