Purpose: Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) is characterized by failure of T lymphocyte development and absent or very low T cell receptor excision circles (TRECs), DNA byproducts of T cell maturation. Newborn screening for TRECs to identify SCID is now performed in several states using PCR of DNA from universally collected dried blood spots (DBS). In addition to infants with typical SCID, TREC screening identifies infants with T lymphocytopenia who appear healthy and in whom a SCID diagnosis cannot be confirmed. Deep sequencing was employed to find causes of T lymphocytopenia in such infants.
Methods: Whole exome sequencing and analysis were performed in infants and their parents. Upon finding deleterious mutations in the ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) gene, we confirmed the diagnosis of ataxia telangiectasia (AT) in two infants and then tested archival newborn DBS of additional AT patients for TREC copy number.
Results: Exome sequencing and analysis led to 2 unsuspected gene diagnoses of AT. Of 13 older AT patients for whom newborn DBS had been stored, 7 samples tested positive for SCID under the criteria of California's newborn screening program. AT children with low neonatal TRECs had low CD4 T cell counts subsequently detected (R = 0.64).
Conclusions: T lymphocytopenia in newborns can be a feature of AT, as revealed by TREC screening and exome sequencing. Although there is no current cure for the progressive neurological impairment of AT, early detection permits avoidance of infectious complications, while providing information for families regarding reproductive recurrence risks and increased cancer risks in patients and carriers.