Selective advantage of fra (X) heterozygotes

F. Vogel, W.E. Crusio, C. Kovac, J.P. Fryns, M. Freund
Hum Genet. 1990-11-01; 86(1):
DOI: 10.1007/BF00205167

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The high incidence of the fra (X) syndrome (about 1:2000 male newborns) requires an explanation in view of the low fitness of mentally retarded hemizygous males and heterozygous females. In the past, it has been proposed that the mutation rate may be unusually high, and that mutations occur exclusively in male germ cells. According to an alternative hypothesis, a moderately high mutation rate might combine with a selective advantage of clinically unaffected heterozygotes. In earlier studies, such a combined hypothesis was shown to lead to plausible implications regarding mutation rate and fitness. Moreover, a mutation rate in male germ cells of the magnitude required by the exclusive mutation hypothesis was excluded by studies on comprehensive pedigree data. In this third study in the series, an increased fitness of heterozygous females is demonstrated directly by a comparison of the reproductive performance of heterozygotes with that of adequate controls (mothers and grandparents of Down’s syndrome patients). Since, average numbers of children have decreased during recent decades in populations of industrialized countries, heterozygotes (mothers of affected probands and their female relatives in their own generation) were subdivided into those born before and after 1940. Moreover, sibship sizes of probands’ mothers and fathers were analyzed separately for family branches in which the fra (X) trait segregated (mostly the maternal branch), or did not segregate (in most instances the paternal branch). In all four categories reproductive performance in heterozygotes was found to be higher than in the controls. This difference was significant statistically for two of the four groups; it was small and nonsignificant only for the parental family branch in which the fra (X) mutant did not segregate and for mothers born after 1940. Fitness estimates ranged between 1.11 and 1.36. A higher incidence of dizygotic twinning suggests a biological component for this increased fertility. On the other hand, fra (X) families have a significantly lower social status than the controls. This suggests a socio-psychological component of their higher fertility. Apparently, both components contribute to their fertility; at present, their relative importance cannot be assessed.

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