Population-based Tay-Sachs screening among Ashkenazi Jewish young adults in the 21st century: Hexosaminidase A enzyme assay is essential for accurate testing

Am J Med Genet A. 2009 Nov;149A(11):2444-7. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.a.33085.


Tay-Sachs disease (TSD) carrier screening, initiated in the 1970s, has reduced the birth-rate of Ashkenazi Jews with TSD worldwide by 90%. Recently, several nationwide programs have been established that provide carrier screening for the updated panel of Jewish genetic diseases on college campuses and in Jewish community settings. The goals of this study were to determine the performance characteristics of clinical TSD testing in college- and community-based screening programs and to determine if molecular testing alone is adequate in those settings. Clinical data for TSD testing were retrospectively anonymized and subsequently analyzed for 1,036 individuals who participated in these programs. The performance characteristics of the serum and the platelet Hexosaminidase assays were compared, and also correlated with the results of targeted DNA analysis. The serum assay identified 29 carriers and the platelet assay identified 35 carriers for carrier rates of 1/36 and 1/29, respectively. One hundred sixty-nine samples (16.3%) were inconclusive by serum assay in marked contrast to four inconclusive samples (0.4%) by the platelet assay. Molecular analysis alone would have missed four of the 35 carriers detected by the platelet assay, yielding a false negative rate of 11.4% with a sensitivity of 88.6%. Based on the results of this study, platelet assay was superior to serum with a minimal inconclusive rate. Due to changing demographics of the Ashkenazi Jewish population, molecular testing alone in the setting of broad-based population screening programs is not sufficient, and biochemical analysis should be the assay of choice.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blood Platelets / enzymology
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Demography
  • Enzyme Assays / methods*
  • Heterozygote
  • Hexosaminidase A / blood
  • Hexosaminidase A / genetics*
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Jews / genetics*
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Tay-Sachs Disease / diagnosis*
  • Tay-Sachs Disease / enzymology*
  • Young Adult


  • Hexosaminidase A