Spinocerebellar ataxia type 17 (SCA17) is an autosomal dominant cerebellar ataxia caused by expansion of CAG/CAA trinucleotide repeats in the TATA-binding protein (TBP) gene. Because the number of triplets in patients with SCA17 in previous studies ranged from 43 to 63, the normal number of trinucleotide units has been considered to be 42 or less. However, some healthy subjects in SCA17 pedigrees carry alleles with the same number of expanded repeats as patients with SCA17.
To investigate the minimum number of CAG/CAA repeats in the TBP gene that causes SCA17.
We amplified the region of the TBP gene containing the CAG/CAA repeat by means of polymerase chain reaction and performed fragment and sequence analyses.
The subjects included 734 patients with SCA (480 patients with sporadic SCA and 254 patients with familial SCA) without CAG repeat expansions at the SCA1, SCA2, Machado-Joseph disease, SCA6, SCA7, or dentatorubral-pallidolluysian atrophy loci, with 162 healthy subjects, 216 patients with Parkinson disease, and 195 with Alzheimer disease as control subjects.
Eight patients with SCA possessed an allele with more than 43 CAG/CAA repeats. Among the non-SCA groups, alleles with 43 to 45 repeats were seen in 3 healthy subjects and 2 with Parkinson disease. In 1 SCA pedigree, a patient with possible SCA17 and her healthy sister had alleles with 45 repeats. A 34-year-old man carrying alleles with 47 and 44 repeats (47/44) had developed progressive cerebellar ataxia and myoclonus at 25 years of age, and he exhibited dementia and pyramidal signs. He was the only affected person in his pedigree, although his father and mother carried alleles with mildly expanded repeats (44/36 and 47/36, respectively). In another pedigree, 1 patient carried a 43-repeat allele, whereas another patient had 2 normal alleles, indicating that the 43-repeat allele may not be pathologic in this family.
We estimate that 44 CAG/CAA repeats is the minimum number required to cause SCA17. However, the existence of unaffected subjects with mildly expanded triplets suggests that the TBP gene mutation may not penetrate fully. Homozygosity of alleles with mildly expanded triplet repeats in the TBP gene might contribute to the pathologic phenotype.