A number of human metabolic diseases are inherited as autosomal recessive traits. One of them is Tay-Sachs disease. Children with Tay-Sachs disease appear healthy at birth but become listless and weak at about 6 months of age. Gradually, their physical and neurological conditions worsen, leading to blindness, deafness, and eventually death at 2 to 3 years of age. The disease results from the accumulation of a lipid called GM2 ganglioside in the brain. A normal component of brain cells, GM2 ganglioside is usually broken down by an enzyme called hexosaminidase A, but children with Tay-Sachs disease lack this enzyme. Excessive GM2 gan-glioside accumulates in the brain, causing swelling and, ultimately, neurological symptoms. Heterozygotes have only one normal copy of the hexosaminidase A allele and produce only about half the normal amount of the enzyme, but this amount is enough to ensure that GM2 ganglioside is broken down normally, and heterozygotes are usually healthy.

Autosomal Dominant Traits

Autosomal dominant traits appear in both sexes with equal frequency, and both sexes are capable of transmitting these traits to their offspring. Every person with a dominant trait must inherit the allele from at least one parent; autosomal dominant traits therefore do not skip generations (< Figure 6.5). Exceptions to this rule arise when people acquire the trait as a result of a new mutation or when the trait has reduced penetrance.

If an autosomal dominant allele is rare, most people displaying the trait are heterozygous. When one parent is affected and heterozygous and the other parent is unaffected, approximately / of the offspring will be affected. If both parents have the trait and are heterozygous, approximately 3/4 of the children will be affected. Provided the trait is fully penetrant, unaffected people do not transmit the trait to their descendants. In Figure 6.5, we see that none of the descendants of II-4 (who is unaffected) have the trait.


Autosomal dominant traits appear in both sexes with equal frequency. Affected persons have an affected parent (unless they carry new mutations), and the trait does not skip generations. Unaffected persons do not transmit the trait.

One trait usually considered to be autosomal dominant is familial hypercholesterolemia, an inherited disease in which blood cholesterol is greatly elevated owing to a defect

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