At a glance

Also known as

Fragile X DNA Testing

Why get tested?
Testing is most commonly performed in children with intellectual disability consistent with Fragile X syndrome. However, it may also be used in the investigation of older people with a late-onset neurodegenerative disorder or in women with premature ovarian failure.
 
When to get tested?
The Medicare schedule permits testing when a person is affected by intellectual disability, ataxia, neurodegeneration, or premature ovarian failure consistent with an FMR1 mutation or the person has a relative with a FMR1 mutation.
 
Sample required?
A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm.
 
Confused about genetics?
See our Genetics Information page

 

What is being tested?

The FMR1 gene contains the DNA code to produce a protein called FMRP. This protein is present in a variety of tissues but is especially important in the brain. FMRP is essential for proper brain development and seems to play a role in ensuring that the connections between nerve cells (known as synapses), develop and function properly.
 
How is the sample collected for testing?
A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.
 
Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?
No test preparation is needed.
 

The Test

How is it used?

FMR1 mutation testing is used to assess the FMR1 gene in a person. The FMR1 gene is carried on the X chromosome and boys, who have only one X chromosome and a Y chromosome with no FMR1 gene, have only one copy of the gene in each cell in their bodies. Women, who have two X chromosomes, have two copies of the gene in each cell. In women one of the X chromosomes in each cell is randomly inactivated and this is important in how women can be affected by mutations in the gene.

Fragile X syndrome is usually caused by an alteration (mutation) in the FMR1 gene where a DNA segment, known as the CGG triplet repeat, is expanded. Normally, this DNA segment is repeated from 5 to about 50 times. In people with Fragile X syndrome, however, the CGG segment is repeated more than 200 times. The abnormally expanded CGG segment inactivates the FMR1 gene, which prevents the gene from producing a protein called fragile X mental retardation protein. Loss of this protein leads to the signs and symptoms of Fragile X syndrome. Both boys and girls can be affected, but because boys have only one X chromosome in each cell, an FMR1 mutation will affect all their X chromosomes and they will be more severely affected. About 60 per cent of women with one copy of the full mutation will have some degree of learning problems that can range from mild to severe but most women are much less severely affected than men with a full mutation.

People with a medium-size repeat sequence of 50 – 200 repeats are said to have a premutation in the FMR1 gene. They will not have intellectual disability or Fragile X syndrome in childhood as enough FMRP protein is still produced. They are however, at risk of developing problems later in life. Both men and women with premutations are at risk of developing a neurodegenerative disorder after middle age with slowly worsening movement problems that may be misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s syndrome, memory loss, reduced sensation in the lower limbs and behavioural changes. Women with premutations also have a moderate risk of developing ovarian failure and going into menopause before the age of 40.
 
For more information about the effects of Fragile X syndrome see our Fragile X Condition article.
 

When is it requested?

FMR1 gene testing is ordered in children when they have intellectual disability that is consistent with the possibility of Fragile X syndrome. In adults, FMR1 gene testing may be ordered when the person has progressive neurodegeneration with ataxia, memory loss and other features consistent with Fragile X tremor/ataxia syndrome. Women with premature ovarian failure may also be tested to see if they are premutation carriers. FMR1 gene testing may be recommended if you have a relative with an FMR1 mutation.
 

What does the test result mean?

Because the FMR1 gene is on the X chromosome it has a special pattern of inheritance called X-linked and is only partly recessive since around 60 per cent of women do express the condition to some degree. The test results can show a short or normal repeat length, a medium or premutation repeat length or a long or full mutation repeat length. An important factor is how the gene behaves when it is passed down to children from either their mother or their father.

  • Short repeats are stable and the length does not change when passed on to children.
  • Medium repeats or premutations behave differently when passed on by the mother or the father.
    • When the father passes his premutation into his sperm the length of repeats usually does not change. Because he will only pass his Y chromosome to his sons, none of them will receive the mutated gene and they will be unaffected. All of his daughters will receive the mutated gene on his X chromosome and will be carriers of the premutation and will be unaffected at least until middle age.
    • When the mother passes her premutation on to her children the repeat length may increase in length to become a full mutation or it may remain unchanged in length. Any child has a 50 per cent chance of receiving the mutated gene from their mother. If the gene has become a full mutation then any sons receiving this full mutation will have Fragile X syndrome. Any daughters receiving the full mutation will become carriers and have 60 per cent chance of having some intellectual disability. Any sons receiving an unchanged premutation will be unaffected at least until middle age and will be carriers of the gene. Any daughters receiving the unchanged premutation will be unaffected at least until middle age and will be carriers of the gene.
  • Long repeats or full mutations are generally only passed on by mothers who are carriers. The risks are different for her sons and daughters. Any son has a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the full mutation and if he does he will have Fragile X syndrome. Otherwise he will be unaffected. Any daughter has a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the full mutation and being a carrier and if she does she has a 60 per cent chance of having some intellectual disability. If she inherits the normal gene on the other X chromosome she will be unaffected.

Is there anything else I should know?

Very rarely Fragile X syndrome can be caused by different types of mutations in the FMR1 gene in areas away from the CGG repeats. The usual tests for CGG repeat number will not detect these types of mutations.

Common Questions

Who performs FMR1 testing?

It is not offered in every laboratory. In most cases, your blood will be sent to a reference laboratory for testing.

Can my FMR1 genes change?

No, you inherit a copy of the gene from each of your parents and they will not change over time. However, repeats in the premutation range can increase to become a full mutation in the next generation.

Is FMR1 testing covered by Medicare?

FMR1 testing is covered by Medicare in people affected by intellectual disability, ataxia, neurodegeneration, or premature ovarian failure consistent with an FMR1 mutation or if the person has a relative with an FMR1 mutation. 

Last Review Date: March 15, 2016