The relationship between the degree of microcytosis and the type of mutation carried by beta-thalassemia heterozygotes was investigated. In 113 individuals, 18 different mutations were identified, correlated with mean corpuscular volume (MCV) values, and analyzed statistically. Overall, there was a wide range of MCV (56.3–87.3 fL). In almost all cases, carriers of beta(0) mutations had an MCV below 67 fL, whereas all but a few beta(+) heterozygotes had MCVs above this cutpoint. Mean MCV of beta(0) carriers was statistically significantly lower than those of beta(+) heterozygotes. The various beta(+) mutations were associated with significant differences in mean MCV values. In contrast, all the beta(0) (null) mutations had virtually identical ranges of MCV. The results indicate that degree of reduction in MCV is directly related to the severity of the mutation. Deviations, in four cases, were associated with concurrent alpha gene rearrangements, whereas in three other cases, the MCV was not significantly affected by concurrent alpha rearrangements. The MCV of beta-thalassemia heterozygotes is a valuable parameter in planning strategies for rapid identification of mutations in populations with great mutational diversity. Its use can be particularly advantageous in the setting of prenatal diagnosis. The pattern of mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH) values was similar to the MCV pattern. However, our results suggest that MCH may be preferred for carrier detection in population screening.

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