Genetic testing and risk assessment for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA)
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Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is one of the most common autosomal recessive diseases, affecting approximately 1 in 10,000 live births, and with a carrier frequency of approximately 1 in 50. Because of gene deletion or conversion, SMN1 exon 7 is homozygously absent in approximately 94% of patients with clinically typical SMA. Approximately 30 small intragenic SMN1 mutations have also been described. These mutations are present in many of the approximately 6% of SMA patients who do not lack both copies of SMN1, whereas SMA of other patients without a homozygous absence of SMN1 is unrelated to SMN1. A commonly used polymerase chain reaction/restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) assay can be used to detect a homozygous absence of SMN1 exon 7. SMN gene dosage analyses, which can determine the copy numbers of SMN1 and SMN2 (an SMN1 homolog and a modifier for SMA), have been developed for SMA carrier testing and to confirm that SMN1 is heterozygously absent in symptomatic individuals who do not lack both copies of SMN1. In conjunction with SMN gene dosage analysis, linkage analysis remains an important component of SMA genetic testing in certain circumstances. Genetic risk assessment is an essential and integral component of SMA genetic testing and impacts genetic counseling both before and after genetic testing is performed. Comprehensive SMA genetic testing, comprising PCR-RFLP assay, SMN gene dosage analysis, and linkage analysis, combined with appropriate genetic risk assessment and genetic counseling, offers the most complete evaluation of SMA patients and their families at this time. New technologies, such as haploid analysis techniques, may be widely available in the future.
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