We describe a new approach for analysis of the epidemiology of progressive genetic disorders that quantifies the rate of progression of the disease in the population by measuring the mutational flow. The framework is applied to Huntington disease (HD), a dominant neurological disorder caused by the expansion of a CAG-trinucleotide sequence to >35 repeats. The disease is 100% penetrant in individuals with ≥42 repeats. Measurement of the flow from disease alleles provides a minimum estimate of the flow in the whole population and implies that the new mutation rate for HD in each generation is ≥10% of currently known cases (95% confidence limits 6%-14%). Analysis of the pattern of flow demonstrates systematic underascertainment for repeat lengths <44. Ascertainment falls to <50% for individuals with 40 repeats and to <5% for individuals with 36-38 repeats. Clinicians should not assume that HD is rare outside known pedigrees or that most cases have onset at age <50 years.
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