Background: The underlying causes of mental retardation remain unknown in about half the cases. Recent array-CGH studies demonstrated cryptic imbalances in about 25% of patients previously thought to be chromosomally normal.
Objective and methods: Array-CGH with approximately 3500 large insert clones spaced at approximately 1 Mb intervals was used to investigate DNA copy number changes in 81 mentally impaired individuals.
Results: Imbalances never observed in control chromosomes were detected in 20 patients (25%): seven were de novo, nine were inherited, and four could not have their origin determined. Six other alterations detected by array were disregarded because they were shown by FISH either to hybridise to both homologues similarly in a presumptive deletion (one case) or to involve clones that hybridised to multiple sites (five cases). All de novo imbalances were assumed to be causally related to the abnormal phenotypes. Among the others, a causal relation between the rearrangements and an aberrant phenotype could be inferred in six cases, including two imbalances of the X chromosome, where the associated clinical features segregated as X linked recessive traits.
Conclusions: In all, 13 of 81 patients (16%) were found to have chromosomal imbalances probably related to their clinical features. The clinical significance of the seven remaining imbalances remains unclear. The limited ability to differentiate between inherited copy number variations which cause abnormal phenotypes and rare variants unrelated to clinical alterations currently constitutes a limitation in the use of CGH-microarray for guiding genetic counselling.