Purpose: Profound hearing loss occurs with a frequency of 1 in 1000 live births, half of which is genetic in etiology. The past decade has witnessed rapid advances in determining the pathogenesis of both syndromic and nonsyndromic deafness. The most significant clinical finding to date has been the discovery that mutations of GJB2 at the DFNB1 locus are the major cause of profound prelingual deafness in many countries. 1 More recently, GJB2 mutations have been shown to cause deafness when present with a deletion of the GJB6 gene. We report on the prevalence of GJB2 and GJB6 mutations in a large North American Repository of DNA from deaf probands and document the profound effects of familial ethnicity and parental mating types on the frequency of these mutations in the population.
Methods: Deaf probands were ascertained through the Annual Survey of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and Youth, conducted at the Research Institute of Gallaudet University. Educational, etiologic, and audiologic information was collected after obtaining informed consent. DNA studies were performed for the GJB2 and GJB6 loci by sequencing and PCR methods.
Results: GJB2 mutations accounted for 22.2% of deafness in the overall sample but differed significantly among Asians, African-Americans and Hispanics and for probands from deaf by deaf and deaf by hearing matings, as well as probands from simplex and multiplex sibships of hearing parents. In our sample, the overall incidence of GJB2/GJB6 deafness was 2.57%.
Conclusion: GJB2 mutations account for a large proportion of deafness in the US, with certain mutations having a high ethnic predilection. Heterozygotes at the GJB2 locus should be screened for the GJB6 deletion as a cause of deafness. Molecular testing for GJB2 and GJB6 should be offered to all patients with nonsyndromic hearing loss.