Background: Immunodeficiency Centromeric Instability and Facial anomalies (ICF) is a rare autosomal recessive disease characterized by reduction in serum immunoglobulins with severe recurrent infections, facial dysmorphism, and more variable symptoms including mental retardation. ICF is directly related to a genomic methylation defect that mainly affects juxtacentromeric heterochromatin regions of certain chromosomes, leading to chromosomal rearrangements that constitute a hallmark of this syndrome upon cytogenetic testing. Mutations in the de novo DNA methyltransferase DNMT3B, the protein ZBTB24 of unknown function, or loci that remain to be identified, lie at its origin. Despite unifying features, common or distinguishing molecular signatures are still missing for this disease. Method. We used the molecular signature that we identified in a mouse model for ICF1 to establish transcriptional biomarkers to facilitate diagnosis and understanding of etiology of the disease. We assayed the expression and methylation status of a set of genes whose expression is normally restricted to germ cells, directly in whole blood samples and epithelial cells of ICF patients. Results: We report that DNA hypomethylation and expression of MAEL and SYCE1 represent robust biomarkers, easily testable directly from uncultured cells to diagnose the most prevalent sub-type of the syndrome. In addition, we identified the first unifying molecular signatures for ICF patients. Of importance, we validated the use of our biomarkers to diagnose a baby born to a family with a sick child. Finally, our analysis revealed unsuspected complex molecular signatures in two ICF patients suggestive of a novel genetic etiology for the disease. Conclusions: Early diagnosis of ICF syndrome is crucial since early immunoglobulin supplementation can improve the course of disease. However, ICF is probably underdiagnosed, especially in patients that present with incomplete phenotype or born to families with no affected relatives. The specific and robust biomarkers identified in this study could be introduced into routine clinical immunology or neurology departments to facilitate testing of patients with suspected ICF syndrome. In addition, as exemplified by two patients with a combination of molecular defects never described before, our data support the search for new types of mutations at the origin of ICF syndrome.
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