Background: Approximately 80% of the alpha- and 10% of the beta-thalassaemias are caused by genomic deletions involving the alpha- and beta-globin gene clusters on chromosomes 16p13.3 and 11p15.5, respectively. Gap-PCR, Southern blot analysis, and fluorescent in situ hybridisation are commonly used to identify these deletions; however, many deletions go undetected using conventional techniques.
Methods: Patient samples for which no abnormalities had been found using conventional DNA techniques were analysed by a three colour multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification assay. Two sets of 35 and 50 probes, covering a region of 700 kb of the alpha- and 500 kb of the beta-globin gene cluster, respectively, were designed to detect rearrangements in the alpha- and beta-globin gene clusters.
Results: In 19 out of 38 patient samples, we found 11 different alpha-thalassaemia deletions, six of which were not previously described. Two novel deletions leaving the alpha-globin gene cluster intact were found to cause a complete downregulation of the downstream alpha-genes. Similarly, 31 out of 51 patient samples were found to carry 10 different deletions involving the beta-globin gene cluster, three of which were not previously described. One involves the deletion of the locus control region leaving the beta-globin gene cluster intact.
Conclusions: These deletions, which are not easily detected by conventional techniques, may have clinical implications during pregnancy ranging from mild to life threatening microcytic haemolytic anaemia in neonates. The approach as described here is a rapid and sensitive method for high resolution analysis of the globin gene clusters and for any region of the genome.