Incidence and Carrier Frequency of Sandhoff Disease in Saskatchewan Determined Using a Novel Substrate With Detection by Tandem Mass Spectrometry and Molecular Genetic Analysis

Mol Genet Metab. 2014 Mar;111(3):382-389. doi: 10.1016/j.ymgme.2014.01.002. Epub 2014 Jan 13.


Sandhoff disease is a rare progressive neurodegenerative genetic disorder with a high incidence among certain isolated communities and ethnic groups around the world. Previous reports have shown a high occurrence of Sandhoff disease in northern Saskatchewan. Newborn screening cards from northern Saskatchewan were retrospectively screened in order to investigate the incidence and determine the carrier frequency of Sandhoff disease in these communities. PCR-based screening was conducted for the c.115delG (p.(Val39fs)) variant in the HEXB gene that was previously found in 4 Sandhoff disease patients from this area. The carrier frequency for this allele was estimated to be ~1:27. MS/MS-based screening of hexosaminidase activity along with genetic sequencing allowed for the identification of additional variants based on low total hexosaminidase activity and high % hexosaminidase A activity relative to c.115delG carriers. In total 4 pathogenic variants were discovered in the population (c.115delG, c.619A>G, c.1601G>T, and c.1652G>A) of which two are previously unreported (c.1601G>T and c.1652G>A). The combined carrier frequency of these alleles in the study area was estimated at ~1:15. Based on the number of cases of Sandhoff disease from this area we estimate the incidence to be ~1:390 corresponding to a child being born with the disease every 1-2 years on average. The results from our study were then compared with variants in the HEXB gene from the genomes available from the 1000 Genomes project. A total of 19 HEXB variants were found in the 1092 genomes of which 5 are suspected of having a deleterious effect on hexosaminidase activity. The estimated carrier frequency of Sandhoff disease in Saskatchewan at 1:15 is more than 3 times higher than the carrier frequency in the global sample provided by the 1000 Genomes project at 1:57.

Keywords: GM2; Gangliosidosis; HEXB; Hexosaminidase; Sandhoff; Tay–Sachs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Female
  • Heterozygote*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Molecular Biology / methods
  • Mutation
  • Neonatal Screening*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sandhoff Disease / diagnosis
  • Sandhoff Disease / epidemiology
  • Sandhoff Disease / genetics*
  • Saskatchewan
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • beta-Hexosaminidase beta Chain / genetics*


  • HEXB protein, human
  • beta-Hexosaminidase beta Chain