Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome (WHS) is caused by deletions involving chromosome region 4p16.3. The minimal diagnostic criteria include mild-to-severe mental retardation, hypotonia, growth delay and a distinctive facial appearance. Variable manifestations include feeding difficulties, seizures and major congenital anomalies. Clinical variation may be explained by variation in the size of the deletion. However, in addition to having a deletion involving 4p16.3, previous studies indicate that approximately 15% of WHS patients are also duplicated for another chromosome region due to an unbalanced translocation. It is likely that the prevalence of unbalanced translocations resulting in WHS is underestimated since they can be missed using conventional chromosome analyses such as karyotyping and WHS-specific fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). Therefore, we hypothesized that some of the clinical variation may be due to an unrecognized and unbalanced translocation. Array comparative genomic hybridization (aCGH) is a new technology that can analyze the entire genome at a significantly higher resolution over conventional cytogenetics to characterize unbalanced rearrangements. We used aCGH to analyze 33 patients with WHS and found a much higher than expected frequency of unbalanced translocations (15/33, 45%). Seven of these 15 cases were cryptic translocations not detected by a previous karyotype combined with WHS-specific FISH. Three of these 15 cases had an unbalanced translocation involving the short arm of an acrocentric chromosome and were not detected by either aCGH or subtelomere FISH. Analysis of clinical manifestations of each patient also revealed that patients with an unbalanced translocation often presented with exceptions to some expected phenotypes.
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