Unstable DNA may be responsible for the incomplete penetrance of the myotonic dystrophy phenotype

Hum Mol Genet. 1992 Oct;1(7):467-73. doi: 10.1093/hmg/1.7.467.


Myotonic dystrophy (DM) is associated with the expansion and instability of a trinucleotide (CTG) repeat in a sequence encoding a cAMP-dependent protein kinase. The normal copy number of 5-35 repeats is exceeded in DM patients, with the size of the expansion broadly correlating with the severity of symptoms experienced. In most families reported, the unstable DNA sequence has increased in size on transmission to affected offspring, thereby providing a molecular explanation for the phenomenon of anticipation in DM, i.e. an increase in the severity of symptoms associated with an earlier age at onset of the disease in successive generations of a family. Here we present the first reported case of a family where the transmission of the affected chromosome from father to son is accompanied by a reduction in the size of the triplet expansion, such that it falls within the normal range. As the son remains asymptomatic, this type of molecular event may provide an explanation for the incomplete penetrance of the disease phenotype reported for this disorder. The implications for genetic counselling of DM families and the mechanistic considerations of the trinucleotide instability are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • DNA / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myotonic Dystrophy / diagnosis
  • Myotonic Dystrophy / genetics*
  • Pedigree
  • Phenotype
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid


  • DNA