Simple procedure for automatic detection of unstable alleles in the myotonic dystrophy and Huntington's disease loci

Genet Test. Summer 2006;10(2):85-97. doi: 10.1089/gte.2006.10.85.


Human neurodegenerative and neuromuscular disorders are associated with a class of gene mutations represented by expansion of trinucleotide repeats. DNA testing is important for the diagnosis of these diseases because clinical discrimination is complicated by their late onset and frequently overlapping symptomatology. However, detection of pathologic alleles expanded up to several thousand trinucleotides poses a challenge for the introduction of rapid, fully automatic, and simple DNA diagnostic procedures. Here we propose a simple two-step polymerase chain reaction (PCR) protocol for rapid molecular diagnostics of myotonic dystrophy, Huntington's disease, and possibly also other triplet expansion diseases. Standard PCR amplification with target repeat flanking primers is used for the detection of alleles of up to 100 repeats; next, triplet-primed PCR is applied for detection of larger expansions. Automated capillary electrophoresis of amplicons allows rapid discrimination between normal, premutated and expanded (CTG/CAG)(n) alleles. Using the suggested protocol, the expanded allele was successfully detected in all test DNA samples with known genotypes. Our experience demonstrates that the suggested two-step PCR protocol provides high sensitivity, specificity, and reproducibility; is significantly less time-consuming; is easier to perform; and provides a better basis for automation than previous methods requiring Southern analysis. Therefore, it can be used for confirmation of uncertain clinical diagnoses, for prenatal testing in at-risk families, and, generally in research on these diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Electronic Data Processing
  • Genetic Carrier Screening / methods
  • Genomic Instability
  • Humans
  • Huntingtin Protein
  • Huntington Disease / genetics*
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques / methods*
  • Molecular Probe Techniques
  • Myotonic Dystrophy / genetics*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*
  • Trinucleotide Repeat Expansion*


  • HTT protein, human
  • Huntingtin Protein
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Nuclear Proteins

Associated data

  • OMIM/160900
  • OMIM/229300
  • OMIM/602668
  • OMIM/603516
  • OMIM/604326