Low penetrance in the long-QT syndrome: clinical impact

Circulation. 1999 Feb 2;99(4):529-33. doi: 10.1161/01.cir.99.4.529.


Background: It is still currently held that most patients affected by the long-QT syndrome (LQTS) show QT interval prolongation or clinical symptoms. This is reflected by the assumption in linkage studies of a penetrance of 90%. We had previously suggested that a larger-than-anticipated number of LQTS patients might be affected without showing clinical signs. We have now exploited the availability of molecular diagnosis to test this hypothesis.

Methods and results: We identified 9 families with "sporadic" cases of LQTS, ie, families in which, besides the proband, none of the family members had clinical signs of the disease. Mutation screening by conventional single-strand conformational polymorphism and sequencing was performed on DNA of probands and family members to identify mutation carriers. Of 46 family members considered on clinical grounds to be nonaffected, 15 (33%) were found instead to be gene carriers. Penetrance was found to be 25%. In these families, conventional clinical diagnostic criteria had a sensitivity of only 38% in correctly identifying carriers of the genetic defect.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates that in some families, LQTS may appear with a very low penetrance, a finding with multiple clinical implications. The family members considered to be normal and found to be silent gene carriers are unexpectedly at risk of generating affected offspring and also of developing torsade de pointes if exposed to either cardiac or noncardiac drugs that block potassium channels. It is no longer acceptable to exclude LQTS among family members of definitely affected patients on purely clinical grounds. Conversely, it now appears appropriate to perform molecular screening in all family members of genotyped patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Long QT Syndrome / genetics*
  • Long QT Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation*
  • Pedigree
  • Polymorphism, Single-Stranded Conformational
  • Sensitivity and Specificity