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Research Article

An unusual splicing mutation in the HEXB gene is associated with dramatically different phenotypes in patients from different racial backgrounds.

B McInnes, M Potier, N Wakamatsu, S B Melancon, M H Klavins, S Tsuji and D J Mahuran

Research Institute, Hospital for Sick Children, Montréal, Québec, Canada.

Published August 1992

Sandhoff disease is caused by mutations affecting the beta subunit of lysosomal beta-hexosaminidase (EC 3.2.1.52) and displays a wide spectrum of clinical phenotypes. We report a 57-year-old patient with a very mild phenotype, although residual hexosaminidase A activity in his cultured fibroblasts was less than 3% of normal activity, a level observed in juvenile onset patients. Northern and Western blot analyses confirmed a similar low level of beta subunit-mRNA and mature beta-protein, respectively. Two mutations of the HEXB gene were identified in this patient, a partial 5' gene deletion (a null allele), and a C----T transition 8 nucleotides downstream from the intron 10/exon 11 junction affecting the splicing of the beta subunit-mRNA. In their homozygous forms, the 5' deletion has been previously shown to result in a severe infantile phenotype, and the C----T transition in a juvenile phenotype. The genotype and the low level of residual hexosaminidase A activity would be expected to produce a juvenile Sandhoff phenotype in this patient, as well as in four of his six clinically normal siblings. The biochemical basis of his mild phenotype is uncertain, but may result from genetic variations in the RNA splicing machinery.

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