A deletion of at least 140 kb starting approximately 35kb upstream (telomeric) to the GJB2 (CX26) gene was identified in 7 patients from 4 unrelated Jewish Ashkenazi families with non-syndromic hearing loss. These patients were heterozygous for one of the common mutations 167delT or 35delG in the GJB2 gene in trans to the deletion. The deletion started at 5' side of the GJB6 (CX30) gene including the first exon and it did not affect the integrity of the GJB2 gene. The deletion mutation segregated together with the hearing loss, and was not found in a control group of 100 Ashkenazi individuals. We suggest that the deletion is a recessive mutation causing hearing loss in individuals that are double heterozygous for the deletion and for a mutation in the GJB2 gene. The effect of the deletion mutation could be due to a digenic mode of inheritance of GJB2 and GJB6 genes that encode two different connexins; connexin 26 and connexin 30, or it may abolish control elements that are important in the expression of the GJB2 gene in the cochlea. Regardless which of the options is valid, it is apparent that the deletion mutation provides a new insight into connexin function in the auditory system. The deletion mutation was on the same haplotypic background in all the families, and therefore is a founder mutation that increases the impact of GJB2 in the etiology of prelingual recessive non-syndromic hearing loss in the Ashkenazi population.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.