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FXN gene methylation determines carrier status in Friedreich ataxia

Detection of the expanded GAA triplet-repeat (GAA-TRE) in the heterozygous state, occasionally technically challenging, is essential for diagnosing compound heterozygotes and asymptomatic carriers. The authors explored if the FRDA differentially methylated region (FRDA-DMR) in intron 1, which is hypermethylated in cis with the GAA-TRE, effectively detects heterozygous GAA-TRE. FXN DNA methylation was assayed by targeted bisulfite deep sequencing using the Illumina platform. FRDA-DMR methylation effectively identified a cohort of known heterozygous carriers of the GAA-TRE. In an individual with clinical features of FRDA, commercial testing showed a paternally inherited pathogenic FXN initiation codon variant but no GAA-TRE. Methylation in the FRDA-DMR effectively identified the proband, his mother and various maternal relatives as heterozygous carriers of the GAA-TRE, thus confirming the diagnosis of FRDA. FXN DNA methylation reliably detects the GAA-TRE in the heterozygous state and offers a robust alternative strategy to diagnose FRDA due to compound heterozygosity and to identify asymptomatic heterozygous carriers of the GAA-TRE.

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