Waardenburg syndrome (WS) type 1 is an autosomal dominant disorder characterized by sensorineural hearing loss, pigmentary abnormalities of the eye, hair, and skin, and dystopia canthorum. The phenotype is variable and affected individuals may exhibit only one or a combination of several of the associated features. To assess the relationship between phenotype and gene defect, clinical and genotype data on 48 families (271 WS individuals) collected by members of the Waardenburg Consortium were pooled. Forty-two unique mutations in the PAX3 gene, previously identified in these families, were grouped in five mutation categories: amino acid (AA) substitution in the paired domain, AA substitution in the homeodomain, deletion of the Ser-Thr-Pro-rich region, deletion of the homeodomain and the Ser-Thr-Pro-rich region, and deletion of the entire gene. These mutation classes are based on the structure of the PAX3 gene and were chosen to group mutations predicted to have similar defects in the gene product. Association between mutation class and the presence of hearing loss, eye pigment abnormality, skin hypopigmentation, or white forelock was evaluated using generalized estimating equations, which allowed for incorporation of a correlation structure that accounts for potential similarity among members of the same family. Odds for the presence of eye pigment abnormality, white forelock, and skin hypopigmentation were 2, 8, and 5 times greater, respectively, for individuals with deletions of the homeodomain and the Pro-Ser-Thr-rich region compared to individuals with an AA substitution in the homeodomain. Odds ratios that differ significantly from 1.0 for these traits may indicate that the gene products resulting from different classes of mutations act differently in the expression of WS, although a suggestive association was detected for hearing loss with an odds ratio of 2.6 for AA substitution in the paired domain compared with AA substitution in the homeodomain, this odds ratio did not differ significantly from 1.0.
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