Objective: To assess the relationship between the GCT repeat number in the myotonic dystrophy gene and the clinical phenotype and examine its predictive utility in prenatal testing.
Design: DNA from patients was examined for the length of the myotonic dystrophy GCT repeat region, using both Southern blot analysis and polymerase chain reaction. The results were compared with the clinical onset of disease, as well as with pregnancy outcomes.
Setting: Patient samples were referred to the Kleberg DNA Diagnostic Laboratory at the Baylor College of Medicine for DNA analysis by geneticists and genetic counselors (84%), neurologists (10%), and obstetricians and other specialists (6%). Clinical features including onset of disease and family pedigrees were determined by the referring centers.
Patients: A total of 241 patient samples from 118 families referred from primarily genetic or neurological centers for genetic linkage analysis or mutation analysis for myotonic dystrophy. This included 44 families referred for prenatal diagnosis.
Main outcome measures: A relationship between myotonic dystrophy disease onset and length of the GCT repeat allele, parental origin of the disease allele, and results of prenatal diagnosis predictions of disease status were measured.
Results: There is a relationship between increasing repeat length and earlier clinical onset of disease. Essentially all (> 99%) myotonic mutations causing myotonic dystrophy are accounted for by GCT repeat amplification. Congenital myotonic dystrophy occurs with as few as 730 GCT repeats but only with alleles of maternal origin. Maternal GCT repeats were found as low as 75 (asymptomatic) that were amplified to result in a child with congenital myotonic dystrophy. Application of DNA diagnosis to 32 pregnancies provided an accurate method for identification of at-risk fetuses and allele enlargement.
Conclusions: The GCT repeat in myotonic dystrophy is highly mutable. The triplet repeat amplification is highly specific for mutations involving the myotonin protein kinase gene accounting for myotonic dystrophy. The quantitation of triplet repeats can be more sensitive than physical, ophthalmologic, and electromyography examinations since the mutation can be detected in patients without evidence of myotonic dystrophy clinical findings. The length of the triplet expansion is influenced by the sex of the transmitting parent and is related to the clinical onset of disease features. Prenatal measurement of the GCT triplet repeat has utility for families with myotonic dystrophy risk since mutant and normal repeats are distinguishable and the length of mutant repeat alleles is associated with clinical severity. Thus, GCT triplet measurement provides a highly accurate means of detecting the myotonic dystrophy mutation in patients and offers a new reproductive option for families at risk for myotonic dystrophy.