Predictive, pre-natal and diagnostic genetic testing for Huntington's disease: the experience in Canada from 1987 to 2000

Clin Genet. 2003 Jun;63(6):462-75. doi: 10.1034/j.1399-0004.2003.00093.x.


Predictive and pre-natal testing for Huntington's Disease (HD) has been available since 1987. Initially this was offered by linkage analysis, which was surpassed by the advent of the direct mutation test for HD in 1993. Direct mutation analysis provided an accurate test that not only enhanced predictive and pre-natal testing, but also permitted the diagnostic testing of symptomatic individuals. The objective of this study was to investigate the uptake, utilization, and outcome of predictive, pre-natal and diagnostic testing in Canada from 1987 to April 1, 2000. A retrospective design was used; all Canadian medical genetics centres and their affiliated laboratories offering genetic testing for HD were invited to participate. A total of 15 of 22 centres (68.2%), currently offering or ever having offered genetic testing for HD, responded, providing data on test results, demographics, and clinical history. A total of 1061 predictive tests, 15 pre-natal tests, and 626 diagnostic tests were performed. The uptake for predictive testing was approximately 18% of the estimated at-risk Canadian population, ranging from 12.5% in the Maritimes to 20.7% in British Columbia. There appears to have been a decline in the rate of testing in recent years. Of the predictive tests, 45.0% of individuals were found to have an increased risk, and a preponderance of females (60.2%) sought testing. A greater proportion of those at < or = 25% risk sought predictive testing once direct CAG mutation analysis had become available (10.9% after mutation analysis vs 4.7% before mutation analysis, p = 0.0077). Very few pre-natal tests were requested. Of the 15 pre-natal tests, 12 had an increased risk, resulting in termination of pregnancy in all but one. Diagnostic testing identified 68.5% of individuals to be positive by mutation analysis, while 31.5% of those with HD-like symptoms were not found to have the HD mutation. The positive diagnostic tests included 24.5% of individuals with no known prior family history of HD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Canada
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / diagnosis*
  • Huntington Disease / genetics*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Trinucleotide Repeat Expansion