Mutations in PHD-like domain of the ATRX gene correlate with severe psychomotor impairment and severe urogenital abnormalities in patients with ATRX syndrome

Clin Genet. 2006 Jul;70(1):57-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-0004.2006.00641.x.


Mutations in ATRX are associated with a wide and clinically heterogeneous spectrum of X-linked mental retardation syndromes. The ATRX protein, involved in chromatin remodelling, belongs to the family of SWI/SNF DNA helicases and contains a plant homeodomain (PHD)-like domain. To date, more than 60 different mutations have been reported in ATRX. One of them is recurrent and accounts for 20% of all the reported mutations, whereas all others are private. Most mutations are clustered in the two major functional domains, the helicase and the PHD-like domain. So far, no clear genotype-phenotype correlation has been established, with exception to the rare truncating mutations located at the C-terminal part of the protein, which are consistently associated with severe urogenital defects. In this study, we report the molecular analysis performed in 16 families positive for ATRX. Our findings indicate that, in addition to the previously described mutation 'hotspot' in the PHD-like domain, two other protein sections emerge as minor 'hotspots' in the helicase region encoded by exons 18-20 and 26-29, respectively, gathering 33% of all described mutations. Additionally, based on the clinical data collected for 22 patients from the 16 families, we observe that mutations in the PHD-like domain produce severe and permanent psychomotor deficiency, usually preventing patients from walking, as well as constant urogenital abnormalities, while mutations in the helicase domain lead to delayed but correct psychomotor acquisitions together with mild or absent urogenital abnormalities. In summary, mutations in the helicase domain are associated with milder phenotypes than mutations in the PHD-like domain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA Helicases / chemistry*
  • DNA Helicases / genetics*
  • DNA, Complementary / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / enzymology
  • Intellectual Disability / genetics
  • Male
  • Mothers
  • Mutation*
  • Nuclear Proteins / chemistry*
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Psychomotor Disorders / enzymology*
  • Psychomotor Disorders / genetics*
  • Syndrome
  • Urogenital Abnormalities / enzymology*
  • Urogenital Abnormalities / genetics*
  • X Chromosome Inactivation
  • X-linked Nuclear Protein
  • alpha-Thalassemia / enzymology
  • alpha-Thalassemia / genetics


  • DNA, Complementary
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • DNA Helicases
  • ATRX protein, human
  • X-linked Nuclear Protein