Accurate clinical diagnosis of the spinocerebellar ataxias (SCAs) can be difficult because of overlap in phenotype with other disorders and variation in clinical manifestations. Six SCA loci have been mapped and four disease causing genes identified, in addition to the causative gene for Friedreich's ataxia (FA). All of the identified mutations are expansions of trinucleotide repeat tracts. The SCA2 and SCA6 genes were published recently. The extent of the normal CAG size ranges at these loci and the relative frequencies of the known causes of SCA in the UK are not known. This study first investigated the normal size ranges of the SCA2 and SCA6 loci by genotyping control populations of West African and South African subjects, since African populations generally show the greatest allelic diversity. We found one allele larger than the previously determined normal range for SCA2, and our results at the SCA6 locus agreed with the previously reported normal range. The second component of the study assessed the relative frequencies of the SCA1, 2, 3, and 6, DRPLA, and FA trinucleotide repeat mutations in 146 patients presenting with SCA-like symptoms referred to genetic diagnostic laboratories in the UK. We detected mutations in 14% of patients referred with a diagnosis of autosomal dominant SCA, and in 15% of patients referred with spinocerebellar ataxia where we did not have sufficient family history data available to allow categorisation as familial or sporadic cases. Friedreich's ataxia accounted for 3% of the latter category of cases in our sample, but the most common causes of SCA were SCA2 and SCA6.
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