Anomalies of chromosome number and structure are considered to be the most frequent cause of unexplained, non-syndromic developmental delay and mental retardation (DD/MR). High-resolution, genome-wide, array-based segmental aneusomy profiling has emerged as a highly sensitive technique for detecting pathogenic genomic imbalances. A review of 29 array-based studies of DD/MR patients showed that a yield of at least ∼19% pathogenic aberrations is attainable in unselected, consecutive DD/MR referrals if array platforms with 30-70 kb median probe spacing are used as an initial genetic testing method. This corresponds to roughly twice the rate of classical cytogenetics. This raises the question whether chromosome banding studies, combined with targeted approaches, such as fluorescence in situ hybridisation for the detection of microdeletions, still hold substantial relevance for the clinical investigation of these patients. To address this question, we reviewed the outcome of cytogenetic studies in all 36,325 DD/MR referrals in the Netherlands during the period 1996-2005, a period before the advent of array-based genome investigation. We estimate that in a minimum of 0.78% of all referrals a balanced chromosomal rearrangement would have remained undetected by array-based investigation. These include familial rearrangements (0.48% of all referrals), de novo reciprocal translocations and inversions (0.23% of all referrals), de novo Robertsonian translocations (0.04% of all referrals), and 69,XXX triploidy (0.03% of all referrals). We conclude that karyotyping, following an initial array-based investigation, would give only a limited increase in the number of pathogenic abnormalities, i.e. 0.23% of all referrals with a de novo, apparently balanced, reciprocal translocation or inversion (assuming that all of these are pathogenic), and 0.03% of all referrals with 69,XXX triploidy. We propose that, because of its high diagnostic yield, high-resolution array-based genome investigation should be the first investigation performed in cases of DD/MR, detecting >99% of all pathogenic abnormalities. Performing both array investigation and karyotyping may not be a feasible option when laboratories are faced with a need to limit the number of genetic tests available for each patient. However, laboratories that supplant karyotyping by array-based investigation should be aware that, as shown here, a chromosomal abnormality, with possible pathogenic consequences for the patient or the family, will escape detection in about 0.78% of all DD/MR referrals.

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European Journal of Medical Genetics
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Hochstenbach, R, van Binsbergen, E, Engelen, J, Nieuwint, A, Polstra, A, Poddighe, P, … Poot, M. (2009). Array analysis and karyotyping: Workflow consequences based on a retrospective study of 36,325 patients with idiopathic developmental delay in the Netherlands. European Journal of Medical Genetics, 52(4), 161–169. doi:10.1016/j.ejmg.2009.03.015