Fragile X syndrome is the most frequent heritable genetic disease involving mental retardation and is usually caused by an expanded CGG repeat in the first exon of the FMR1 gene. Therefore, searching for CGG expansion at the FRAXA locus among the mentally retarded has become a routine investigation in neuropaediatric practice. Consequently, we have developed a fluorescent PCR-based assay for sizing repeats as an alternative to laborious and time-consuming Southern blot. The procedure utilises a reverse fluorescent labelled primer, and the Expand Long Template PCR system™ (Roche) with addition of dimethylsulfoxide and 7-deaza-dGTP. It allows precise determination of the CGG repeat number in males and females for alleles from normal to premutation size range and detection of full mutations in males. We believe that this PCR protocol, allowing a high sample throughput, is useful for first-line screening among mentally retarded males, possibly complemented by Southern blot analysis to assess the methylation status of large mutated alleles.
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