Telomere Dysfunction in Pediatric Patients with Differences/Disorders of Sexual Development

Biomedicines. 2024 Mar 2;12(3):565. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines12030565.


Differences/Disorders of sex development (DSDs) are conditions in which the development of chromosomal, gonadal, and anatomical sexes is atypical. DSDs are relatively rare, but their incidence is becoming alarmingly common in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Their etiologies and mechanisms are poorly understood. Therefore, we have investigated cytogenetic profiles, including telomere dysfunction, in a retrospective cohort of Senegalese DSD patients.

Materials and methods: Peripheral blood lymphocytes were sampled from 35 DSD patients (mean age: 3.3 years; range 0-18 years) admitted to two hospital centers in Dakar. Peripheral blood lymphocytes from 150 healthy donors were used as a control. Conventional cytogenetics, telomere, and centromere staining followed by multiplex FISH, as well as FISH with SRY-specific probes, were employed.

Results: Cytogenetic analysis identified 19 male and 13 female patients with apparently normal karyotypes, two patients with Turner syndrome, and one patient with Klinefelter syndrome. Additional structural chromosome aberrations were detected in 22% of the patients (8/35). Telomere analysis revealed a reduction in mean telomere lengths of DSD patients compared to those of healthy donors of similar age. This reduction in telomere length was associated with an increased rate of telomere aberrations (telomere loss and the formation of telomere doublets) and the presence of additional chromosomal aberrations.

Conclusions: To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to demonstrate a correlation between telomere dysfunction and DSDs. Further studies may reveal the link between telomere dysfunction and possible mechanisms involved in the disease itself, such as DNA repair deficiency or specific gene mutations. The present study demonstrates the relevance of implementing telomere analysis in prenatal tests as well as in diagnosed genetic DSD disorders.

Keywords: DSDs; chromosomal aberrations; telomere dysfunctions; telomere shortening.

Grants and funding

This research was funded by the L’OREAL Foundation for Women in Science 2020 for the scholarship of Haifaou Younoussa. This work was supported by a French State grant managed by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) under the third program of investments for the future (PIA), integrated into France 2030, with reference ANR-21-RHUS-0013 (RHU REVEAL).