, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 255-262

Huntington’s disease genetics

Summary

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a dominantly transmitted neurodegenerative disorder with wide variation in onset age but with an average age at onset of 40 years. Children ofHD gene carriers have a 50% chance of inheriting the disease. The characteristic symptoms of HD are involuntary choreiform movements, cognitive impairment, mood disorders, and behavioral changes which are chronic and progressive over the course of the illness. HD is a “trinucleotide repeat” disorder, which is caused by an increase in the number of CAG repeats in theHD gene. Repeats of 40 or larger are associated with disease expression, whereas repeats of 26 and smaller are normal. Intermediate numbers of repeats, between 27 and 35, are not associated with disease expression but may expand in paternal transmission, resulting in the disease in descendents. Repeats of 36–39 are associated with reduced penetrance whereby some develop HD and others do not. The identification of the genetic defect in HD permits direct genetic testing for the presence of the gene alteration responsible for the disease. Tests may be performed in three circumstances: (1) confirmation of diagnosis, (2) predictive testing of persons at genetic risk for inheriting HD, and (3) prenatal testing. Testing is widely available and much experience has been gained with protocols that assist the individual in making an informed choice about test options, and minimize the occurrence of adverse emotional outcomes.