Genetic analysis of age at onset variation in spinocerebellar ataxia type 2

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To examine heritability of the residual variability of spinocerebellar ataxia type 2 (SCA2) age at onset (AO) after controlling for CAG repeat length.


From 1955 to 2001, dates of birth, CAG repeat lengths, AO, sex, familial inheritances, and clinical manifestations were collected for a large Cuban SCA2 cohort of 382 affected individuals, including 129 parent-child pairs and 69 sibships. Analyses were performed with log-transformed AO in the GENMOD procedure to predict AO using repeat length, taking into account family structure. Because all relationships were first degree, the model was implemented with an exchangeable correlation matrix. Familial correlations were estimated using the Pedigree Analysis Package to control for similarity due to genetic relatedness.


For the entire sample, the mutant CAG repeat allele explained 69% of AO variance. When adjusted for pedigree structure, this decreased to 50%. Evidence for imprinting or sex-specific effects of the CAG repeat on AO was not found. For the entire sample, we determined an upper bound for heritability of the residual variance of 33% (p = 0.008). Heritability was higher in sib-sib pairs, especially in female sib-sib pairs, than in parent-child pairs.


We established that a large proportion of AO variance in SCA2 was determined by genetic modifiers in addition to CAG repeat length. The genetic structure of heritability of the residual AO variance was surprisingly similar to Huntington disease, suggesting the presence of recessive modifying alleles and possibly X-chromosome–linked modifiers.

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