EP Leeflang, S Tavaré, P Marjoram, CO Neal, J Srinidhi, H MacFarlane, ME MacDonald, JF Gusella, M de Young, NS Wexler, N Arnheim
Hum Mol Genet
Trinucleotide repeat disease alleles can undergo 'dynamic' mutations in which repeat number may change when a gene is transmitted from parent to offspring. By typing >3500 sperm, we determined the size distribution of Huntington's disease (HD) germline mutations produced by 26 individuals from the Venezuelan cohort with CAG/CTG repeat numbers ranging from 37 to 62. Both the mutation frequency and mean change in allele size increased with increasing somatic repeat number. The mutation frequencies averaged 82% and, for individuals with at least 50 repeats, 98%. The extraordinarily high mutation frequency levels are most consistent with a mutation process that occurs throughout germline mitotic divisions, rather than resulting from a single meiotic event. In several cases, the mean change in repeat number differed significantly among individuals with similar somatic allele sizes. This individual variation could not be attributed to age in a simple way or to ' cis ' sequences, suggesting the influence of genetic background or other factors. A familial effect is suggested in one family where both the father and son gave highly unusual spectra compared with other individuals matched for age and repeat number. A statistical model based on incomplete processing of Okazaki fragments during DNA replication was found to provide an excellent fit to the data but variation in parameter values among individuals suggests that the molecular mechanism might be more complex.