Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Heterozygosity for Tay-Sachs disease in non-Jewish Americans with ancestry from Ireland or Great Britain.
  1. M van Bael,
  2. M R Natowicz,
  3. J Tomczak,
  4. E E Grebner,
  5. E M Prence
  1. Division of Medical Genetics, Shriver Center for Mental Retardation, Waltham, MA 02254, USA.


    We performed a genetic epidemiological analysis of American non-Jewish people with ancestry from Ireland or Great Britain with regard to heterozgosity for Tay-Sachs disease (TSD). This study was prompted by a recent report that the frequency of heterozygosity for TSD among Irish Americans was 1 in 8, a frequency much higher than that recognised for any other population group. We identified 19 of 576 (3.3%) people of Irish background as TSD heterozygotes by the standard thermolability assay for beta-hexosaminidase A (Hex A) activity. Three of 289 people of non-Irish British Isles background (1%) were also identified as heterozygotes by biochemical testing. Specimens from the biochemically identified Irish heterozygotes were analysed for seven different Hex A alpha subunit gene mutations; three (15.8%) had a lethal +1 IVS-9 G to A mutation, previously noted to be a common mutation among TSD heterozygotes of Irish ancestry. Eight of 19 (42.1%) had one of two benign or pseudodeficiency mutations, and no mutation was found in 42.1% of the heterozygotes analysed. These data indicate that non-Jewish Americans with Irish background have a significantly increased frequency of heterozygosity at the Hex A alpha subunit gene locus, but that approximately 42% of the biochemically ascertained heterozygotes have clinically benign mutations. A pseudodeficiency mutation was identified in one of the three TSD heterozygotes of non-Irish British Isles background; no mutations were found in the other two. The data allow for a frequency estimate of deleterious alleles for TSD among Irish Americans of 1 in 192 to 1 in 52. Non-Jewish Americans with ancestry from Great Britain have a minimal, if any, increase in rate of heterozygosity at the TSD gene locus relative to the general population.

    Statistics from

    Request Permissions

    If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.