Scientists have identified a gene that can cause three totally different diseases,depending on how it is altered. An international research team led by the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB),the CIBERER and the University of Wurzburg (Germany) used next-generation massive ultrasequencing techniques to sequence over 20,000 genes of a Fanconi anaemia patient’s genome.
By adopting this strategy they succeeded in identifying pathogenic mutations responsible for this disease in the ERCC4 gene,which had already been linked to two other rare diseases: xeroderma pigmentosum and a type of progeria.
The latter are characterised by heightened sensitivity to sunlight,susceptibility to skin cancer and,in the case of progeria,premature ageing.
Fanconi anaemia,on the other hand,is characterised by progressive anaemia,congenital malformations and a high risk of developing leukaemia and mouth tumours.
The ERCC4 gene can therefore be responsible for three different diseases,researchers said. The scientists have shown that this gene is involved in two DNA repair mechanisms by which cells maintain the stability of the genome,in such a way that the balance between these two repair systems will determine which of the three diseases the patient will contract.
“This is a rather exceptional case,since there are few precedents of a single gene being involved in two independent physiological mechanisms and causing three clinically different diseases,” said UAB professor Dr Jordi Surralles.
The findings as well as improving the diagnosis and genetic characterisation of rare diseases,will allow new therapeutic strategies to be applied.
The study was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.