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Keywords:

  • HNPCC;
  • Lynch syndrome;
  • mismatch repair genes;
  • missense mutations;
  • functional assays;
  • database

Abstract

Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) or Lynch syndrome is caused by DNA variations in the DNA mismatch repair (MMR) genes MSH2, MLH1, MSH6, and PMS2. Many of the mutations identified result in premature termination of translation and thus in loss-of-function of the encoded mutated protein. These DNA variations are thought to be pathogenic mutations. However, some patients carry other DNA mutations, referred to as unclassified variants (UVs), which do not lead to such a premature termination of translation; it is not known whether these contribute to the disease phenotype or merely represent rare polymorphisms. This is a major problem which has direct clinical consequences. Several criteria can be used to classify these UVs, such as: whether they segregate with the disease within pedigrees, are absent in control individuals, show a change of amino acid polarity or size, provoke an amino acid change in a domain that is evolutionary conserved and/or shared between proteins belonging to the same protein family, or show altered function in an in vitro assay. In this review we discuss the various functional assays reported for the HNPCC-associated MMR proteins and the outcomes of these tests on UVs identified in patients diagnosed with or suspected of having HNPCC. We conclude that a large proportion of MMR UVs are likely to be pathogenic, suggesting that missense variants of MMR proteins do indeed play a role in HNPCC. Hum Mutat 28(11), 1047–1054, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.