Molecular diagnosis of Fragile X syndrome

Expert Rev Mol Diagn. 2009 Jan;9(1):23-30. doi: 10.1586/14737159.9.1.23.


Fragile X syndrome, the most prevalent inherited cause of mental retardation, is related to hyperexpansion of a polymorphic CGG repeat of the FMR1 gene. Expansion of 55-200 repeats are called premutations and characterize carriers who usually have no mental impairment. The disease causing full mutations exceed 200 CGG repeats, are hypermethylated and lead to transcriptional silencing of the gene and absence of the Fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP). Diagnostic approaches involve molecular and immunocytochemical techniques. Southern blot, which allows mutations to be detected and methylation status to be determined in a single test, remains the procedure of choice for most laboratories. Modifications of PCR methods, including methylation specific PCR, are also proposed but their implementation is still in question because of inherent difficulties to amplify CGG repeats, distinguish between mosaic patterns and interpret results in female individuals. The FMRP antibody test is also suitable for large population screening and elucidation of Fragile X syndrome cases with no CGG expansion, but it is not widely applied. In search for novel diagnostic approaches, use of PCR as a first prescreening test followed by Southern blot is considered the most reliable procedure.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Southern
  • DNA Methylation
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein / genetics
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein / metabolism
  • Fragile X Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Fragile X Syndrome / genetics
  • Fragile X Syndrome / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques / methods*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein