Molecular characterization of Wilson disease in the Sardinian population -- evidence of a founder effect.
Wilson disease (WD) in the Sardinian population has an approximate incidence of 1:7,000 live births. Mutation analysis of the WD gene in this population reported in our previous articles led us to the characterization of two common mutations and a group of 13 rare mutations accounting for the molecular defect of 8.5, 7.9, and 15.1% of the WD chromosomes. However, molecular analysis of the WD chromosomes containing the most common haplotype, which accounts for 60.5% of the WD chromosomes, failed to define the disease-causing mutation. In this study, we characterized the promoter and the 5' UTR of the WD gene sequence and carried out a mutation analysis in this DNA region from patients with the most common haplotype. The promoter is contained in a GC-rich island and shows a TATA and a CAAT consensus sequence as well as potential binding sites for transcription factors and metal response elements. In all the analyzed 92 chromosomes with this haplotype, we detected a single mutation consisting of a 15-nt deletion from position -441 to position -427 relative to the translation start site. Expression assays demonstrated a 75% reduction in the transcriptional activity of the mutated sequence compared to the normal control. By adding this mutation to those that have been already characterized, we have now defined the molecular defect in 92% of the WD chromosomes in Sardinians. The high frequency, the expected prevention by preclinical diagnosis and early treatment of the devastating effect of WD on the nervous system and liver tissue, and the feasibility to detect most of molecular defects by DNA analysis indicate that WD in the Sardinian population should be added to the list of diseases currently detected by newborn screening.