In order to assess the applicability of multiple restriction endonuclease analyses of amniocyte DNA to the prenatal diagnosis of beta-thalassemias in general, we studied 12 consecutive couples at risk. DNA of both members of the 12 couples and a previous offspring of each was analyzed for the presence of 4 polymorphic restriction endonuclease sites: the Hpa I site 3' to the beta-globin gene, the Hind III site in the G gamma gene, the Hind III site in the A gamma gene, and the Bam HI site 3′ to the beta-gene. Linkage disequilibrium between these sites and beta A or beta thal genes was not found, presumably due to the heterogeneity of beta thal genes. However, the high frequency of polymorphism at these sites allowed differentiation of beta A-bearing chromosomes from beta thal or beta S-bearing chromosomes in both members of 6 couples. In these couples, complete prenatal diagnosis by linkage analysis of amniocyte DNA would be possible. In the remaining 6 couples, beta A and beta thal chromosomes could be discriminated in one member. In about 50% of the pregnancies of these couples, exclusion of beta-thalassemia is possible by this analysis. These data suggest that when linkage analysis of polymorphic restriction endonuclease sites is carried out, prenatal diagnosis of beta-thalassemia states can be accomplished by amniocentesis alone in 75% of pregnancies at risk.

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