FMR1 premutation carrier frequency in patients undergoing routine population-based carrier screening: insights into the prevalence of fragile X syndrome, fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome, and fragile X-associated primary ovarian insufficiency in the United States

Genet Med. 2011 Jan;13(1):39-45. doi: 10.1097/GIM.0b013e3181fa9fad.


Purpose: Fragile X syndrome is caused by expansion and methylation of a CGG tract in the 5' untranslated region of the FMR1 gene. The estimated frequency of expanded alleles (≥55 repeats) in the United States is 1:257-1:382, but these estimates were not calculated from unbiased populations. We sought to determine the frequency of fragile X syndrome premutation (55-200 repeats) and full mutation (>200 repeats) alleles in nonselected, unbiased populations undergoing routine carrier screening for other diseases.

Methods: A previously validated laboratory-developed test using triplet-primed polymerase chain reaction was used to detect premutation and full mutation alleles in an unselected series of 11,759 consecutive cystic fibrosis carrier screening samples and 2011 samples submitted for screening for genetic diseases prevalent among the Ashkenazi Jewish population.

Results: Premutations were identified in 48 cystic fibrosis screening samples (1:245) and 15 samples (1:134) from the Ashkenazi Jewish population. Adjusted for the ethnic mix of the US population and self-reported ethnicity in our screening population, the estimated female premutation carrier frequency in the United States was 1:178. The calculated frequency of full mutation alleles was 1:3335 overall, and the calculated premutation frequency in males was 1:400. Based on frequency of larger, ≥70 repeat alleles, and reported penetrance, the calculated fragile X-associated tremor and ataxia syndrome, and fragile X-associated primary ovarian insufficiency frequencies is 1:4848 and 1:3560, respectively.

Conclusion: Our calculated fragile X syndrome carrier rate is higher than previous estimates for the US population and warrants further consideration of population-based carrier screening.

MeSH terms

  • Ataxia / epidemiology
  • Ataxia / etiology
  • Ataxia / genetics*
  • Carrier State
  • Female
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein / genetics*
  • Fragile X Syndrome / complications
  • Fragile X Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Fragile X Syndrome / genetics*
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetic Testing
  • Heterozygote
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mutation
  • Prevalence
  • Primary Ovarian Insufficiency / genetics*
  • Tremor / epidemiology
  • Tremor / etiology
  • Tremor / genetics*
  • United States / ethnology


  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein