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Compound heterozygosity for an expanded (GAA) and a (GAAGGA) repeat at FXN locus: from a diagnostic pitfall to potential clues to the pathogenesis of Friedreich ataxia

Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is usually due to a homozygous GAA expansion in intron 1 of the frataxin (FXN) gene. Rarely, uncommon molecular rearrangements at the FXN locus can cause pitfalls in the molecular diagnosis of FRDA. Here the authors describe a family whose proband was affected by late-onset Friedreich's ataxia (LOFA); long-range PCR (LR-PCR) documented two small expanded GAA alleles both in the proband and in her unaffected younger sister, who therefore received a diagnosis of pre-symptomatic LOFA. Later studies, however, revealed that the proband's unaffected sister, as well as their healthy mother, were both carriers of an expanded GAA allele and an uncommon (GAAGGA)66-67 repeat mimicking a GAA expansion at the LR-PCR that was the cause of the wrong initial diagnosis of pre-symptomatic LOFA. Extensive studies in tissues from all the family members, including LR-PCR, assessment of methylation status of FXN locus, MboII restriction analysis and direct sequencing of LR-PCR products, analysis of FXN mRNA, and frataxin protein expression, support the virtual lack of pathogenicity of the rare (GAAGGA)66-67 repeat, also providing significant data about the modulation of epigenetic modifications at the FXN locus. Overall, this report highlights a rare but possible pitfall in FRDA molecular diagnosis, emphasizing the need of further analysis in case of discrepancy between clinical and molecular data.

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