Patients from 76 independent families with various forms of mostly central retinal dystrophies were screened for mutations in the RDS/peripherin gene by means of SSCP analysis and direct DNA sequencing. Two nonsense mutations (Gln239ter, Tyr285ter), five missense mutations (Arg172Trp, Lys197Glu, Gly208Asp, Trp246Arg, Ser289Leu), and one single base insertion (Gly208insG), heterozygous in all cases, were detected. Only one of these mutations, Arg172Trp, has been reported previously. Cosegregation of the mutation with the disease phenotype could be established in selected families. Other missense mutations were excluded from a panel of 55-75 control subjects. The patients showed remarkable variation in phenotype and disease expression not only between cases with different mutations but also between affected members of the same family. This study indicates that RDS/peripherin mutations are a frequent cause of various types of central retinal dystrophies and that the RDS/peripherin gene exhibits a broad spectrum of allelic mutations. Comparative analysis of known mutations allowed us to hypothesise that the deleterious effect of RDS/peripherin gene mutations is the result of different molecular mechanisms.
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