The L1 cell adhesion molecule (L1CAM) is a neuronal gene involved in the development of the nervous system. Mutations in L1CAM are known to cause several clinically overlapping X linked mental retardation conditions: X linked hydrocephalus (HSAS), MASA syndrome (mental retardation, aphasia, shuffling gait, adducted thumbs), spastic paraplegia type I (SPG1), and X linked agenesis of the corpus callosum (ACC). In an analysis of a family with HSAS, we identified a C-->T transition (C924T) in exon 8 that was initially thought to have no effect on the protein sequence as the alteration affected the third base of a codon (G308G). Extensive analysis of the other 27 exons showed no other alteration. A review of the sequence surrounding position 924 indicated that the C-->T transition created a potential 5' splice site consensus sequence, which would result in an in frame deletion of 69 bp from exon 8 and 23 amino acids of the L1CAM protein. RT-PCR of the RNA from an affected male fetus and subsequent sequence analysis confirmed the use of the new splice site. This is the first report of a silent nucleotide substitution in L1CAM giving rise to an alteration at the protein level. Furthermore, it shows that as mutation analysis plays an ever more important role in human genetics, the identification of a synonymous base change should not be routinely discounted as a neutral polymorphism.
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