Cloned cDNA sequences representing exons from the Duchenne/Becker muscular dystrophy (DMD/BMD) gene were used for deletion screening in a population of 287 males males affected with DMD or BMD. The clinical phenotypes of affected boys were classified into three clinical severity groups based on the age at which ambulation was lost. Boys in group 1 had DMD, losing ambulation before their 13th birthday; those in group 2 had disease of intermediate severity, losing ambulation between the ages of 13 and 16 years; and boys in group 3 had BMD, being ambulant beyond 16 years. A fourth group consisted of patients too young to be classified. Clinical group allocation was made without previous knowledge of the DNA results. A gene deletion was found in 124 cases where the clinical severity group of the affected boy was known. The extent of the deletions was delineated using cDNA probes. There were 74 different deletions. Fifty-five of these were unique to individual patients, but the other 19 were found in at least two unrelated patients. The different clinical groups showed generally similar distributions of deletions, and the number of exon bands deleted (that is, deletion size) was independent of phenotype. Some specific deletion types, however, correlated with the clinical severity of the disease. Deletion of exons containing HindIII fragments 33 and 34 and 33 to 35 were associated with BMD and were not found in patients with DMD. Deletions 3 to 7 occurred in four patients with the intermediate phenotype and one patient with BMD. Other shared deletions were associated with DMD, although in four cases patients with disease of intermediate severity apparently shared the same deletion with boys with DMD. The range of phenotypes observed, and the overlap at the genetic level between severe and intermediate and mild and intermediate forms of dystrophy, emphasizes the essential continuity of the clinical spectrum of DMD/BMD. There were no characteristic deletions found in boys with mental retardation or short stature which differed from deletions in affected boys without these features.
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