MECP2 mutations are responsible for Rett syndrome (RTT). Approximately a quarter of classic RTT cases, however, do not have an identifiable mutation of the MECP2 gene. We hypothesized that larger deletions arising from a deletion prone region (DPR) occur commonly and are not being routinely detected by the current PCR-mediated screening strategies. We developed and applied a quantitative PCR strategy (qPCR) to samples referred for diagnostic assessment from 140 patients among whom RTT was strongly suspected and from a second selected group of 31 girls with classical RTT. Earlier MECP2 mutation screening in both groups of patients had yielded a wild-type result. We identified 10 large deletions (7.1%) within the first group and five deletions in the second group (16.1%). Sequencing of the breakpoints in 11 cases revealed that eight cases had one breakpoint within the DPR. Among seven cases, the breakpoint distant to the DPR involved one of several Alu repeats. Sequence analysis of the junction sequences revealed that eight cases had complex rearrangements. Examination of the MECP2 genomic sequence reveals that it is highly enriched for repeat elements, with the content of Alu repeats rising to 27.8% in intron 2, in which there was an abundance of breakpoints among our patients. Furthermore, a perfect chi sequence, known to be recombinogenic in E. coli, is located in the DPR. We propose that the chi sequence and Alu repeats are potent factors contributing to genomic rearrangement. We suggest that routine mutation screening in MECP2 should include quantitative analysis of the genomic sequences flanking the DPR.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.