Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), also called von Recklinghausen disease or peripheral neurofibromatosis, is a common autosomal dominant disorder characterised by multiple neurofibromas, café au lait spots, and Lisch nodules of the iris, with a variable clinical expression. The gene responsible for this condition, NF1, has been isolated by positional cloning. It spans over 350 kb of genomic DNA in chromosomal region 17q11.2 and encodes an mRNA of 11-13 kb containing at least 59 exons. NF1 is widely expressed in a variety of human and rat tissues. Four alternatively spliced NF1 transcripts have been identified. Three of these transcript isoforms (each with an extra exon: 9br, 23a, and 48a, respectively) show differential expression to some extent in various tissues, while the fourth isoform (2.9 kb in length) remains to be examined. The protein encoded by NF1, neurofibromin, has a domain homologous to the GTPase activating protein (GAP) family, and downregulates ras activity. The identification of somatic mutations in NF1 from tumour tissues strongly supports the speculation that NF1 is a member of the tumour suppressor gene family. Although the search for mutations in the gene has proved difficult, germline mutation analysis has shown that around 82% of all the fully characterised NF1 specific mutations so far predict severe truncation of neurofibromin. Further extensive studies are required to elucidate the gene function and the mutation spectrum. This should then facilitate the molecular diagnosis and the development of new therapy for the disease.
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