Objective: Mutations in various genes of the neuromuscular junction cause congenital myasthenic syndrome (CMS). A single truncating mutation (epsilon1293insG) in the acetylcholine receptor epsilon subunit gene (CHRNE) was most often identified in CMS families originating from North Africa and was possibly a founder mutation.
Methods: Twenty-three families were studied with an early onset form of CMS and originating from Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Libya. Screening for the mutation epsilon1293insG was performed by direct sequencing. Haplotype analysis was done with 9 (CA)n repeat microsatellite markers and 6 SNPs flanking epsilon1293insG on chromosome 17p13-p12. Dating was calculated using the ESTIAGE method for rare genetic diseases.
Results: The epsilon1293insG mutation was identified in 14 families (about 60% of the initial 23). The expression of the CMS in affected members of these families was relatively homogeneous, without fetal involvement or being life-threatening, with moderate hypotonia and oculobulbar involvement, mild and stable disease course, and good response to cholinesterase inhibitors. Haplotype analysis revealed a common conserved haplotype encompassing a distance of 63 kb. The estimated age of the founder event was at least 700 years.
Conclusions: These results strongly support the hypothesis that epsilon1293insG derives from an ancient single founder event in the North African population. Identification of founder mutations in isolated or inbred populations may have important implications in the context of molecular diagnosis and genetic counseling of patients and families by detection of heterozygous carriers.