The GGGGCC-hexanucleotide repeat expansion in C9orf72 is the most common genetic cause of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia. This study determined the frequency of C9orf72 repeat expansions in different motor neuron diseases (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), motor neuron diseases affecting primarily the first or the second motor neuron and hereditary spastic paraplegia). Whereas most studies on C9orf72 repeat expansions published so far rely on a polymerase chain reaction-based screening, we applied both polymerase chain reaction-based techniques and Southern blotting. Furthermore, we determined the sensitivity and specificity of Southern blotting of the C9orf72 hexanucleotide repeat in DNA derived from lymphoblastoid cell lines. C9orf72 repeat expansions were found in 27.1% out of 166 familial ALS patients, only once in 68 sporadic ALS patients, and not in 61 hereditary spastic paraplegia patients or 52 patients with motor neuron diseases affecting clinically primarily either the first or the second motor neuron. We found hints for a correlation between C9orf72 repeat length and the age of onset. Somatic instability of the C9orf72 repeat was observed in lymphoblastoid cell lines compared with DNA derived from whole blood from the same patient and therefore caution is warranted for repeat length determination in immortalized cell lines.
Keywords: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; C9orf72; Immortalized cell lines; Motor neuron diseases.
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