In order to test whether the direct molecular diagnostic approach for fragile X mental retardation (Martin-Bell syndrome, MBS) really makes diagnosis of this disease more precise, we evaluated the results of direct diagnosis in 40 German families at risk together with the results of an earlier study with closely linked flanking markers in the same families. Of 84 men analysed, 43 showed clinical signs. In 39 of these affected men the disease could be confirmed by direct diagnosis. Compared to cytogenetic data, one man was false negative and two were false positive. Two men, whose status could not be determined by means of RFLP data, proved to be normal transmitting males (NTMs). However, the possibility of being an NTM had to be rejected in one case on RFLP data. Fragile X syndrome could be confirmed in 10 of the 13 women with clinical signs. Compared to cytogenetic data there were three cases of false negative results and one of false positive. All 36 obligate carrier women were detected by the direct approach. In addition, 22 women were newly identified as normal transmitting females (NTFs), among them one woman who could not be identified by cytogenetic means or by analysis with closely linked markers. These findings are discussed in view of the relative reliability of the three diagnostic approaches to MBS. Special attention is drawn to the significance of false negative and false positive results in direct diagnosis.
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