Background: The McCune-Albright syndrome is a sporadic disease characterized by polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, café au lait spots, sexual precocity, and hyperfunction of multiple endocrine glands. These manifestations may be explained by a somatic mutation in affected tissues that results in activation of the signal-transduction pathway generating cyclic AMP (cAMP). We analyzed DNA from tissues of patients with the McCune-Albright syndrome for the presence of activating mutations of the gene for the alpha subunit of the G protein (Gs alpha) that stimulates cAMP formation.
Methods: Genomic DNA fragments encompassing regions (exons 8 and 9) previously found to contain activating missense mutations of the Gs alpha gene (gsp mutations) in sporadically occurring pituitary tumors were amplified in tissues from four patients with the McCune-Albright syndrome by the polymerase chain reaction. The amplified DNA was analyzed for mutations by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis and allele-specific oligonucleotide hybridization.
Results: We detected one of two activating mutations within exon 8 of the Gs alpha gene in tissues from all four patients, including affected endocrine organs (gonads, adrenal glands, thyroid, and pituitary) and tissues not classically involved in the McCune-Albright syndrome. In two of the patients, histidine was substituted for arginine at position 201 of Gs alpha, and in the other two patients cysteine was substituted for the same arginine residue. In each patient the proportion of cells affected varied from tissue to tissue. In two endocrine organs, the highest proportion of mutant alleles was found in regions of abnormal cell proliferation.
Conclusions: Mutations within exon 8 of the Gs alpha gene that result in increased activity of the Gs protein and increased cAMP formation are present in various tissues of patients with the McCune-Albright syndrome. Somatic mutation of this gene early in embryogenesis could result in the mosaic population of normal and mutant-bearing tissues that may underlie the clinical manifestations of this disease.