The Fragile X syndrome is the most common cause of inherited mental retardation. Clinical features are neither specific nor constant and molecular diagnosis is thus widely used since the characterization of the causal mutation in 1991. The aim of this project was to study the evolution of Fragile X diagnosis in France. A preliminary study of the efficiency of screening for the Fragile X mutation in mentally retarded probands with no previous familial diagnosis was done in the Strasbourg's laboratory with a comparison between data from 1991-1994 and 1997-2000. This study showed an improvement in the use of the Fragile X testing regarding the probands' age at diagnosis and the recruitment of sporadic and female cases. To avoid possible bias in clinical referrals and to evaluate the situation nation wide, this study was enlarged to 28 of the 30 laboratories involved in the Fragile X diagnosis in France from 1997 to 2001 (20,816 probands tested, data representative of 95% of the national screening activity). Median age at diagnosis decreased from 9.2 to 5.8 (average 16-11.6y) between the 1991-1994 and the 1997-2001 studies. Over this period, 477 new families were diagnosed with Fragile X, representing 2.8% of tested male probands (417/14,867) and 1.0% of tested female probands (60/5,949). Forty one percent of positive cases corresponded to probands with a familial history of mental retardation, compared to 66% in the initial (1991-1994) study. We also discuss issues concerning premutations discovered in affected individuals and in females with premature ovarian failure (POF).
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