Is There Convincing Evidence that Intermediate Repeats in the HTT Gene Cause Huntington's Disease?

J Huntingtons Dis. 2015;4(2):141-8. doi: 10.3233/JHD-140120.


Background and objective: Huntington's disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disease associated with a CAG repeat expansion in the Huntingtin (HTT) gene. A trinucleotide size between 27 and 35 is considered 'intermediate' and not to cause symptoms and signs of HD. There are articles claiming otherwise, however publishing only the cases that have a HD phenotype introduces a significant publication bias. Our objective is to determine if there is convincing evidence that intermediate repeats (IA) cause HD.

Methods: Previously published case reports on HTT intermediate repeat sizes and all cases from the Netherlands with an IA were reviewed for clinical symptoms and signs.

Results: Four patients had a clinical presentation of Huntington's disease and an IA out of ten reported cases in literature. Between 2001 and 2012, 1,690 patients were tested for HD in the Netherlands. One case out of 60 with an IA had a phenotype resembling HD, but had already been published in a case report.

Conclusion: Given the high background frequency of intermediate alleles in several populations, the possibility of developing HD would have huge implications for 1-7% of the normal population. It is possible that IAs present as an endophenotype with the potential of subsequent clinical manifestations. However, given the scarcity of convincing cases, the lack of convincing biological evidence for pathogenicity of intermediate alleles, and many genes still to be discovered for HD mimics, we find that it is premature to claim that IAs can cause HD. We recommend systematic follow up of this group of individuals and if possible brain pathology for confirmation or exclusion of HD.

Keywords: Huntingtin gene; Huntington’s disease; Trinucleotide repeat diseases; intermediate CAG repeat; intermediate allele.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Huntingtin Protein
  • Huntington Disease / epidemiology
  • Huntington Disease / genetics*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Trinucleotide Repeat Expansion*


  • HTT protein, human
  • Huntingtin Protein
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins