Single Gene Disorders

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Single gene disorders are among the most well-understood genetic disorders due to their straightforward inheritance patterns (recessive or dominant) and relatively simple genetic etiology. Although the majority of these diseases are rare, in total, they affect millions of Americans. Some of the more common single-gene disorders include cystic fibrosis, hemochromatosis, Tay-Sachs, and sickle cell anemia.

Even though these diseases are primarily caused by a single gene, several different mutations can result in the same disease but with varying degrees of severity and phenotype. But even the same mutation can result in slightly different phenotypes. This may be caused by differences in the patient’s environment and/or other genetic variations that may influence the disease phenotype or outcome. For example, other genes have been shown to modify the cystic fibrosis phenotype in children who carry the same CFTR mutation. In addition, for some disorders such as galactosemia, mutations in different genes can result in similar phenotypes.

Genetic testing is available for many single-gene disorders, however, the clinical examination is extremely important in the differential diagnosis particularly in patients with no family history. For some genetic conditions, patients can often be treated for their symptoms or modify their diets to prevent the onset of symptoms if diagnosed at an early age (newborn screening). However, despite advancements in the understanding of genetic etiology and improved diagnostic capabilities, no treatments are available to prevent disease onset or slow disease progression for a number of these disorders.

Some useful resources to bookmark include GeneTests and OMIM. GeneTests (http://www.genetests.org) is an online genetic testing laboratory database providing information about conditions and laboratory testing services. The Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=OMIM) database is a comprehensive resource that provides information about the genetic etiology, clinical symptoms, and a bibliography. Of over 5,000 known genetic conditions, the molecular basis is known in almost 2,000.

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References

Genetic Alliance. 2007. Understanding Genetics: A Guide for Patients and Health Care Professionals. http://www.geneticalliance.org/ws_display.asp?filter=understanding.genetics.download

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