CAG repeat expansions in exon 1 of the AR gene on the X chromosome cause spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy, a male-specific progressive neuromuscular disorder associated with a variety of extra-neurological symptoms. The disease has a reported male prevalence of 1:30,303 or less, but the AR repeat expansion frequency is unknown. We established a pipeline, which combines the use of the ExpansionHunter tool and visual validation, to detect AR CAG expansion on whole-genome sequencing data, benchmarked it to fragment PCR sizing, and applied it to 74,277 unrelated individuals from four large cohorts. Our pipeline showed sensitivity of 100% (95% C.I. 90.8-100%), specificity of 99% (95% C.I. 94.2-99.7%), and positive predictive value of 97.4% (95% C.I. 84.4-99.6%). We found the mutation frequency to be 1:3,182 (95% C.I. 1:2,309-1:4,386, n=117,734) X chromosomes – ten times more frequent than the reported disease prevalence. Modelling using the novel mutation frequency led to estimate disease prevalence of 1:6,887 males, more than four times more frequent than the reported disease prevalence. This discrepancy is possibly due to underdiagnosis of this neuromuscular condition, reduced prevalence, and/or pleomorphic clinical manifestations.
Brain. 2023 Feb 17;awad050. doi: 10.1093/brain/awad050. Online ahead of print.