Background: The fibrillin gene encodes a protein in the extracellular matrix, and this protein is widely distributed in elastic tissues. The fibrillin gene is the site of mutations causing Marfan's syndrome. This disorder shows a high degree of clinical variability both between and within families. Each family appears to have a unique mutation in the fibrillin gene, which precludes the routine use of mutation screening for presymptomatic diagnosis of the disorder. The goal of this study was to develop a widely applicable method of molecular diagnosis.
Methods: We used three newly characterized intragenic sites of normal DNA repeat-sequence variation (i.e., polymorphisms) as markers to follow the inheritance pattern of specific copies (alleles) of the fibrillin gene in multiple kindreds with various clinical features of Marfan's syndrome.
Results: The polymorphic markers allowed identification of the particular copy of the fibrillin gene that cosegregated with Marfan's syndrome in 13 of the 14 families tested. In 11 families a definite presymptomatic diagnosis of Marfan's syndrome could be made in family members who had only equivocal manifestations of the disorder. In two other families, some family members demonstrated either classic Marfan's syndrome or a milder but closely related phenotype. The copy of the fibrillin gene that cosegregated with classic Marfan's syndrome was not inherited by family members with the latter, atypical, form of the disease. These milder phenotypes, previously diagnosed as Marfan's syndrome, were not associated with aortic involvement.
Conclusions: These results document the usefulness of novel polymorphic DNA repeat sequences in the presymptomatic diagnosis of Marfan's syndrome. Our findings also demonstrate that the various clinical phenotypes seen in selected families may be due not to single fibrillin mutations, but rather to different genetic alterations. These findings underscore the need for a modification of the current diagnostic criteria for Marfan's syndrome in order to achieve accurate risk assessment.