Background: Careful characterization of the phenotype and genotype of Huntington disease (HD) can foster better understanding of the condition.
Methods: We conducted a cohort study in the United States, Canada, and Australia of members of families affected by HD. We collected demographic and clinical data, conducted the Unified Huntington's Disease Rating Scale and Mini-Mental State Examination, and determined Huntingtin trinucleotide CAG repeat length. We report primarily on cross-sectional baseline data from this recently completed prospective, longitudinal, observational study.
Results: As of December 31, 2009, 2,318 individuals enrolled; of these, 1,985 (85.6%) were classified into six analysis groups. Three groups had expanded CAG alleles (36 repeats or more): individuals with clinically diagnosed HD [n = 930], and clinically unaffected first-degree relatives who had previously pursued [n = 248] or not pursued [n = 112] predictive DNA testing. Three groups lacked expanded alleles: first-degree relatives who had previously pursued [n = 41] or not pursued [n = 224] genetic testing, and spouses and caregivers [n = 430]. Baseline mean performance differed across groups in all motor, behavioral, cognitive, and functional measures (p<0.001). Clinically unaffected individuals with expanded alleles weighed less (76.0 vs. 79.6 kg; p = 0.01) and had lower cognitive scores (28.5 vs. 29.1 on the Mini Mental State Examination; p = 0.008) than individuals without expanded alleles. The frequency of "high normal" repeat lengths (27 to 35) was 2.5% and repeat lengths associated with reduced penetrance (36 to 39) was 2.7%.
Conclusion: Baseline analysis of COHORT study participants revealed differences that emerge prior to clinical diagnosis. Longitudinal investigation of this cohort will further characterize the natural history of HD and genetic and biological modifiers.
Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT00313495.