The FMR1 premutation and reproduction
Michael D. Wittenberger, M.D.,aRandi J. Hagerman, M.D.,bStephanie L. Sherman, Ph.D.,c
Allyn McConkie-Rosell, Ph.D.,dCorrine K. Welt, M.D.,eRobert W. Rebar, M.D.,f
Emily C. Corrigan, M.D.,aJoe Leigh Simpson, M.D.,gand Lawrence M. Nelson, M.D.a
aIntramural Research Program, Section on Women’s Health Research, Developmental Endocrinology Branch, National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland;
Pediatrics, University of California at Davis Medical Center, M.I.N.D. Institute, Sacramento, California;cDepartment of
Human Genetics, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia;
Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina;eReproductive Endocrine Unit, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General
Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts;fAmerican Society for Reproductive Medicine, Birmingham, Alabama;gDepartments of
Obstetrics and Gynecology and Molecular and Human Genetics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
dDepartment of Pediatrics, Duke University
Objective: To update clinicians on the reproductive implications of premutations in FMR1 (fragile X mental
retardation 1). Fragile X syndrome, a cause of mental retardation and autism, is due to a full mutation (?200 CGG
repeats). Initially, individuals who carried the premutation (defined as more than 55 but less than 200 CGG
repeats) were not considered at risk for any clinical disorders. It is now recognized that this was incorrect,
specifically with respect to female reproduction.
Design and Setting: Literature review and consensus building at two multidisciplinary scientific workshops.
Conclusion(s): Convincing evidence now relates the FMR1 premutation to altered ovarian function and loss of
fertility. An FMR1 mRNA gain-of-function toxicity may underlie this altered ovarian function. There are major
gaps in knowledge regarding the natural history of the altered ovarian function in women who carry the FMR1
premutation, making counseling about reproductive plans a challenge. Women with premature ovarian failure are
at increased risk of having an FMR1 premutation and should be informed of the availability of fragile X testing.
Specialists in reproductive medicine can provide a supportive environment in which to explain the implications
of FMR1 premutation testing, facilitate access to testing, and make appropriate referral to genetic counselors.
(Fertil Steril? 2007;87:456–65. ©2007 by American Society for Reproductive Medicine.)
Key Words: Fragile X syndrome, FMR1, premutation, spontaneous premature ovarian failure, hypergonadotropic
hypogonadism, primary hypogonadism, primary ovarian insufficiency, premature menopause, hypergonadotropic
amenorrhea, low response to gonadotropin stimulation, diminished ovarian reserve, fragile X–associated tremor/
ataxia syndrome, FXTAS, genetic counseling
Remarkable progress has been made to identify a constella-
tion of clinically significant disorders associated with a dy-
namic triple repeat sequence mutation in the X-linked gene
known as FMR1 (fragile X mental retardation 1) (1–4). The
fully expanded form of the mutation leads to fragile X
syndrome, the most common cause of inherited mental re-
tardation as well as the most common known genetic cause
of autism (5).
The form of the mutation that precedes the full mutation
(i.e., the premutation) leads to two disorders that are distinct
from fragile X syndrome. The first is an adult onset neuro-
logic disorder now referred to as fragile X–associated trem-
or/ataxia syndrome, or FXTAS (6–17). FXTAS primarily
affects males, consistent with an X-linked recessive disorder.
The second disorder, the focus of this report, is premature
ovarian failure, which affects approximately 15% of women
who carry the premutation (18–21). In aggregate, these dis-
orders have far-reaching adverse health implications for indi-
viduals and families identified through fragile X syndrome,
premature ovarian failure, and/or the fragile X–associated trem-
Received July 5, 2006; revised and accepted August 4, 2006.
Supported by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine; the In-
tramural Research Program of the National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development, Office of Rare Diseases, Office of Research on
Women’s Health, and the National Institute of Mental Health, National
Institutes of Health; and by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
grant (U10/CCU 92513).
Reprint requests: Lawrence M. Nelson, M.D., National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, CRC,
Room 1-3330, 10 Center Drive, MSC-1103, Bethesda, MD 20892-1103
(FAX: 301-402-0574; E-mail: Lawrence_Nelson@nih.gov).
Edward E. Wallach, M.D.
Fertility and Sterility? Vol. 87, No. 3, March 2007
Copyright ©2007 American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Published by Elsevier Inc.
These premutation-associated disorders have only re-
cently been characterized and, thus, the overall expanded
clinical phenotype of the FMR1 mutations urgently requires
focused research and the development of effective manage-
ment strategies. With this in mind, on April 13, 2005, the
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
(NICHD) convened a 3-day meeting entitled, “Workshop on
Reproduction and the Fragile X Premutation.” The workshop
was held at the William F. Bolger Center for Leadership and
Development in Potomac, Maryland. The purpose was to 
examine the basic science, clinical, and epidemiologic evi-
dence regarding the fragile X premutation and its effects on
reproduction, and  prepare recommendations outlining
what might be done to move the related research agenda
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Preven-
tion (CDC) funded a focus group of experts regarding fragile
X and reproductive endocrinology to meet in Atlanta, Geor-
gia, on February 12 and 13, 2006. The purpose was to
develop recommendations regarding  which patients in
the practices of obstetricians, gynecologists, and reproduc-
tive endocrinologists should be screened for the FMR1 pre-
mutation, and  what is the clinician’s role in genetic
counseling and cascade testing of families in which the
fragile X mutation is identified.
Premature ovarian failure is a condition in which women
develop loss of regular menstrual cycles, infertility, and
ovarian hormone deficiency not normally observed until the
age of menopause (22, 23). In approximately 90% of cases,
no mechanism can be identified to explain the ovarian in-
sufficiency. Through their presentations and discussion, the
workshop participants provided compelling reasons to inves-
tigate the effects of the FMR1 premutation on ovarian func-
tion. The effort should provide a portal to broader insights
regarding ovarian function and pathophysiology. Further-
more, the convergence of disorders relating to a single un-
derlying gene defect will provide synergy and serve as a
paradigm for future investigations related to reproductive
FULL MUTATION AND FRAGILE X SYNDROME
The fragile X syndrome was shown to segregate in affected
individuals who have a characteristic chromosomal fragility
at Xq27.3, hence the name fragile X syndrome (24). Al-
though inherited in an X-linked dominant pattern, the pattern
differs from the usual properties of X-linked inheritance in
some aspects. For example, a small proportion of males who
were known to carry the mutation based on pedigree analysis
had no cognitive disabilities. Also, the risk for fragile
X–related mental retardation appeared to increase with
each generation, a phenomenon known as anticipation.
In 1991, the gene for fragile X syndrome was identified
and the mutation was found to be due to an expanded
sequence of CGGs, which was hypermethylated in affected
individuals (25, 26). The gene was named fragile X mental
retardation 1 (FMR1) (26). Patients with mental retardation
had more than 200 CGG repeats located in the 5’ untrans-
lated region of the gene near the promoter region containing
a CpG island. The hypermethylated expanded CGG repeat
that extended to the promoter region was termed the full
The consequence of this hypermethylation associated with
the full mutation is silencing of FMR1—little or no mRNA
is produced and, hence, the corresponding gene product, the
fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP), is deficient or
absent leading to the features of fragile X syndrome (Fig. 1)
(27). Considerable research has determined that FMRP is an
RNA binding protein that regulates translation of a unique
subset of messages. The protein shuttles between the nuclear
and cytoplasmic compartments and associates with translat-
ing polyribosomes (28–31).
Recent evidence suggests that one role of FMRP is to act
as a translational suppressor. Consistent with a syndrome
whose main feature is mental retardation, the FMR1 product
is highly expressed in the brain (26). FMRP binds with
approximately 4% of mRNA in mammalian brains and ap-
pears to suppress translation of those messages, especially in
dendrites (32). Therefore, lack of FMRP may result in over-
expression of multiple mRNAs that in turn may lead to the
characteristic fragile X syndrome phenotype.
With these important findings, direct DNA diagnosis be-
came possible allowing accurate determination of repeat
number and the methylation status of those repeats. The
incidence of fragile X syndrome is approximately 1 in 4,000
males and 1 in 4,000 to 8,000 females (33–38). Female full
mutation carriers are thought to be relatively protected from
Expression of FMR1 in normal women,
premutation carriers, and full mutation carriers.
Figure adapted from Hagerman and Hagerman
Premutation Full mutation
55 - 200
Typical (Premutation-specific disorders) Fragile X syndrome
Premature ovarian failure (POF)
Tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS)
Expression of the Fragile X Gene
Wittenberger. FMR1 premutation. Fertil Steril 2007.
Fertility and Sterility?
the full effects of fragile X syndrome due to X-chromosome
inactivation. However, approximately 70% of females with
the full mutation have a borderline IQ or lower, and those
with a normal IQ often have executive function deficits
(39–41). Large population studies are needed to obtain more
accurate estimates of the frequency of the carrier state and
fragile X syndrome.
The American College of Medical Genetics (42) and the
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (38)
recommend FMR1 screening in the prenatal setting by am-
niocentesis or chorionic villus sampling only if specific
family history indicators exist, such as fragile X syndrome or
mental retardation of unknown cause, and they recommend
testing the fetus of a mother known to be a carrier. The
recommendations also urge consideration of FMR1 testing in
women with premature ovarian failure or elevated FSH
levels before age 40.
Once the full mutation was established as the molecular
mechanism of fragile X syndrome, the alleles carried by
unaffected obligate carriers as determined by pedigree anal-
ysis of families with fragile X syndrome were characterized
and found to contain smaller expansions of approximately 55
to 200 CGG repeats. These smaller expansions, termed the
premutation, were unmethylated. Moreover, FMR1 func-
tioned as evidenced by intact FMRP protein production. The
term premutation was applied to the range of 55–200 repeats
for two reasons:  carriers of premutations did not have
fragile X–related mental retardation and  these alleles
were at risk for expansion from this “pre” mutation form to
the “full” mutation. Those who were noncarriers were found
to carry even fewer repeats, the most common size being
29–30 repeats in the normal population (43).
PREMUTATION AND NEURODEGENERATION
It is now clear that distinct phenotypes can be associated
with the FMR1 premutation and that this situation should no
longer be regarded as purely an unaffected carrier state. A
progressive neurodegenerative disorder has been identified
in male premutation carriers over the age of 50 (7). This
disorder, termed the fragile-X associated tremor\ataxia syn-
drome (FXTAS), demonstrates both clinical and radiologic
features. Patients may present with progressive intention
tremor, ataxia resulting in frequent falls, autonomic dysfunc-
tion, parkinsonian features (masked facies, intermittent rest-
ing tremor, and increased tone or response to L-DOPA),
cognitive deficits (memory problems and executive function
deficits), psychological features (anxiety, mood lability, out-
burst or reclusive behavior), and peripheral neuropathy with
decreased sensation in the lower extremities (11). Charac-
teristic radiologic findings noted on magnetic resonance im-
aging (MRI) include global brain atrophy and deep cerebel-
lar white matter hyperintensities—the middle cerebellar
peduncle sign (8). Interestingly, on postmortem examination,
pathognomonic eosinophilic inclusion bodies are present in
cortical neurons and astrocytes (9, 17). In males with the
premutation, the risk of developing FXTAS increases with
age (13). Although FXTAS occurs in women with the pre-
mutation, it does so infrequently; women appear to be rela-
tively spared from this disorder (13, 16). However, there is
evidence that an unfavorable X-chromosome inactivation
increases the risk of FXTAS in women (44, 45).
PREMUTATION AND PREMATURE OVARIAN FAILURE
While women with the premutation have a low risk of
developing FXTAS, premature ovarian failure is a relatively
common finding. The prevalence of premature ovarian fail-
ure in women who carry the FMR1 premutation is estimated
to be between 13% and 26% (18, 21, 46–48). Premutation
carriers have been identified in 0.8% to 7.5% of women with
sporadic premature ovarian failure and in up to 13% of
women with familial premature ovarian failure (49–52).
Some of the variation in the estimates of penetrance is
probably due, in part, to the increasing probability of pre-
mature ovarian failure with increasing number of CGG re-
peats. Surprisingly, however, this relationship is nonlinear.
Indeed, the risk appears to increase with increasing premu-
tation repeat size between 59 and 99, thereafter the risk of
premature ovarian failure plateaus or even decreases for
women with repeat sizes over 100 (Fig. 2) (21, 53).
Preliminary evidence suggests that there may also be an
increased risk of premature ovarian failure among women
who carry intermediate-size alleles, those between approxi-
mately 41 and 58 repeats (54, 55). However, more data are
Age-specific prevalence of premature ovarian
failure by CGG repeat length. Based on a data set
of 429 FMR1 premutation carriers and 517
Wittenberger. FMR1 premutation. Fertil Steril 2007.
Wittenberger et al.
Vol. 87, No. 3, March 2007
needed to confirm these findings. There appears to be no
FMR1 premutation parent of origin effect on the relative risk
of premature ovarian failure (21, 56, 57). In contrast with
fragile X syndrome and FXTAS, unfavorable X-inactivation
does not appear to increase the risk for premature ovarian
failure (20, 21).
PREMUTATION AND ALTERED OVARIAN FUNCTION
Premature ovarian failure may be preceded by months to
years of altered reproductive function. Consistent with the
hypothesis that there is a continuum of impaired ovarian
function in women with the FMR1 premutation, premutation
carriers have significantly elevated FSH levels compared
with controls, particularly during their thirties (21, 58–60).
Welt et al. reported that women carrying the FMR1 premu-
tation had significantly elevated serum FSH levels across the
early, mid, and late follicular phase of the menstrual cycle
(21.9 ? 3.5 vs. 11.2 ? 0.5 IU/L, P?.001) (60). Furthermore,
the group found other serum markers evidencing impaired
ovarian function in these women (inhibin B, inhibin A,
progesterone), consistent with both impaired follicular and
luteal function (60). Additionally, in two separate studies
using survival analysis, premutation carriers entered meno-
pause approximately 5 years earlier than non-carrier women
Currently, the mechanism of the impaired ovarian func-
tion related to the FMR1 premutation is unclear. Attractive
possibilities include decreased number of ovarian follicles in
the initial pool, an accelerated rate of atresia of follicles, or
some other mechanism impairing follicle function. All these
mechanisms are consistent with the hypothesis that a con-
tinuum of impaired ovarian function exists in women with
the FMR1 premutation.
INHERITANCE OF THE FRAGILE X MUTATION
The fragile X mutation is located on the X chromosome and
therefore follows the basic pattern of X-linked inheritance.
That is, women who carry the mutation transmit it to 50% of
their offspring. Men who carry the mutation transmit it to all
of their daughters and to none of their sons. Layered onto
this pattern is the complication of the meiotic instability of
the repeat sequence. As the mutation is passed from mother
to offspring, it has the tendency to expand in size. The risk
to expand from the premutation to the full mutation is
dependent on the size of the repeat that is carried by the
mother (61, 62). For example, a repeat size of 59–79 ex-
pands to the full mutation less than 50% of the time, whereas
a repeat size of ?90 expands to the full mutation more than
90% of the time (62). This dependency of expansion on
parental repeat size explains the noted “anticipation” pattern
with respect to the risk of fragile X syndrome.
The smallest repeat length known to expand to a full
mutation in one generation is 59 repeats (62). To date, most
of the data on premutation expansion rates have been based
on families with fragile X syndrome, that is, premutations
known to expand to the full mutation. It is unknown if the
risk of expansion varies based on ascertainment.
In contrast, the repeat sequence is transmitted from fathers
to daughters in a relatively stable manner. It usually expands
by relatively fewer repeats compared with female transmis-
sions and can also contract (63). Intriguingly, the premuta-
tion transmitted by fathers only rarely expands to the full
mutation. Evidence suggests that large repeat sequences are
highly unstable in developing sperm. This explains the ob-
servation that only premutation-size alleles are found in
sperm of pre- and full mutation males (64).
As mentioned above, the smallest repeat to expand to the
full mutation in one generation is approximately 59 repeats.
The initial mutation leading to instability is usually not
observed in a family with fragile X syndrome as the muta-
tional process occurs over multiple generations. Thus, it has
been difficult to determine the lowest size repeat that can be
unstable. Other factors in addition to repeat size also play a
role in stability, most importantly interruption of the CGG
repeat with interspersed AGG sequences (65). Although
beyond the scope of this review, such factors make it diffi-
cult to define the lower boundary of the premutation, which
is most commonly defined as 55 repeats (42).
Alleles from 45 to 54 repeats, comprising the so-called
gray zone or intermediate range, may or may not be unstable
and may have the chance of expanding to the premutation in
several generations (62, 66).
GENETIC COUNSELING FOR FMR1
The National Society of Genetic Counselors recently up-
dated their recommendations for health care professionals
who provide genetic counseling and risk assessment regard-
ing FMR1 and fragile X syndrome (63). This is a challenging
area to explain to patients and their families because of the
complex inheritance involving repeat expansion and the dif-
ferent phenotypes that can be expressed related to the gene.
Furthermore, genetic counseling needs may vary depending
on how the change in FMR1 was discovered in the family
and the size of the CGG repeat.
These data carry significant reproductive ramifications for
women carrying the FMR1 premutation allele. In addition to
concerns female premutation carriers have regarding the risk
of having an affected child, they may be unable to conceive.
Women with an FMR1 premutation may feel pressured to
have children earlier to minimize this risk. Identification of
fragile X mutation carrier status allows women to make
informed reproductive decisions. Genetic counseling further
provides an opportunity to discuss the diagnosis in terms of
risks to other family members. Clearly, learning of carrier
status is difficult for a woman and may raise feelings of
anxiety, guilt, or altered feelings of self-worth (67–69).
Considerable research has been done to understand the
impact of FMR1 carrier status information on self-concept
Fertility and Sterility?
(67, 68), coping (69), and attitudes about testing and inform-
ing at-risk family members (70, 71). Genetic counseling
should thus include assessment of coping behaviors, sugges-
tions for adaptive coping, and resources to deal with the
feeling of being “at risk” and then processing the test results
when they become available (63). Adaptive coping behav-
iors have been identified that come into play in response to
genetic testing (69, 72–74).
Part of the genetic counseling process includes developing
strategies for informing other family members (63). When
key family members refuse or are unable to relay informa-
tion to at-risk relatives, this raises difficult ethical issues.
Using a family network approach permits relatives to be
informed initially by a family member, whom they know,
with follow-up by a genetic counselor (75).
At the appropriate time in the counseling process, repro-
ductive options need to be addressed, including child-free
living, adoption, foster care, egg donation, embryo adoption,
parenting a child with fragile X syndrome, and prenatal
testing. A summary letter by a genetic counselor including
contact information can be provided at the time of the
disclosure (63). In addition, informational resources for pa-
tients and professionals about FMR1 and fragile X syndrome
are available in printed form and online at www.fragileX.org
Most experience in genetic counseling regarding FMR1
has been derived from families who are seeking a diagnosis
for a relative with fragile X syndrome. Few data are avail-
able concerning genetic counseling of individuals identified
through population screening or because of infertility or
neurologic symptoms. These individuals may have little or
no prior knowledge of fragile X syndrome. Therefore,
women with infertility are in a situation that differs in
important respects from women who learn of their carrier
status as a result of a family member being identified as
having fragile X syndrome. There is a need for prospective
study of preconception FMR1 screening in women seeking
evaluation and treatment of infertility.
An important issue in counseling women about FMR1
testing is how much information should be given to women
who are at low risk of a positive result prior to testing, for
example, having idiopathic premature ovarian failure and no
family history of premature ovarian failure or fragile X
syndrome. Should full genetic counseling of FMR1 be pro-
vided in order to prepare the woman for a positive finding?
or, is it acceptable to give minimal information about FMR1
and the implications of the test and defer full genetic coun-
seling until the test is positive? Currently, there are no
available data to address this issue.
CLINICAL MANAGEMENT OF THE FMR1 PREMUTATION
Women with premature ovarian failure who are premutation
carriers need to understand that approximately 5%–10% will
conceive subsequent to the diagnosis without medical inter-
vention (76). As has been demonstrated in a recent case
report, women who have premature ovarian failure related to
an FMR1 premutation are at risk of having a child with
fragile X syndrome should they conceive (77). Thus, a
diagnosis of premature ovarian failure cannot be considered
an absolute barrier to conception.
The discovery of the FMR1 premutation presents clini-
cians with many challenges. The risk of premature ovarian
failure is increased, but not absolute. Many women who
have their family building plans ahead of them may be
distressed at the prospect of impaired fertility and will want
more information concerning their ovarian function. Cur-
rently, it is unclear what, if any, evaluation of ovarian
function should be undertaken in an asymptomatic woman
who is discovered through screening or cascade testing to
carry the premutation. Such women will have to weigh
decisions about the timing of their family building. They will
need to consider avoiding risk factors that are known to
decrease the age at menopause, such as smoking. It should
also be recognized that use of hormonal contraception may
mask the development of premature ovarian failure.
Research is needed to determine the best course of
action to evaluate the risk of altered ovarian function
among asymptomatic premutation carriers. No validated
tests are of proven predictive value with regard to infer-
tility or premature ovarian failure in the population of
women who are asymptomatic. No doubt even after ap-
propriate counseling, many women will want to proceed
with some form of evaluation of ovarian function. If so,
tests that might plausibly provide an indication of ovarian
function could be considered (e.g., serum FSH level, or
ovarian follicle count by transvaginal ultrasound). Coun-
seling must be given that the predictive value of such tests
is based on general experience in all women, not specif-
ically those with the premutation.
METHODS TO DETECT THE FMR1 PREMUTATION
Evaluation of carrier status of the fragile X mutation seeks to
determine the number of CGG repeats and, if in the full
mutation range, to assess the methylation status. Most lab-
oratories use both polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis
and Southern blot analysis to detect repeat size and to
identify possible deletions of FMR1 (63). To identify FMR1
allele size(s) and methylation status, two restriction enzymes
are used, one of which one does not cut methylated DNA
(78). PCR has the advantage of lower cost and can give an
accurate repeat size in the normal, intermediate, and premu-
tation ranges. PCR has the disadvantage of not being able to
detect longer repeat sizes (42, 63, 79, 80).
When screening specifically for a premutation in FMR1,
the cost can be significantly reduced by first screening only
with the PCR-based test. It has been estimated that approx-
imately 80% of women would be successfully screened with
this test alone, whereas 20% would require addition of
Wittenberger et al.
Vol. 87, No. 3, March 2007
Southern blot analysis (80, 81). However, carriers with a
mosaic pattern of premutation and full mutation are difficult
to identify using just one DNA method (42). PCR testing
could identify the premutation but not the full mutation and
lead to inappropriate risk assessment. Thus, it has been
recommended that in a clinical setting, both PCR and South-
ern blot analysis should be performed (42).
Four allelic forms of FMR1 with respect to CGG repeat
size have been described. They are referred to as  normal
or common,  “gray zone” or intermediate,  premuta-
tion, and  full mutation (42). Consensus has been reached
regarding the premutation size of 55–200 repeats and the full
mutation at ?200 repeats both in the literature (15, 82) and
at the workshop and focus group meetings that form the
basis of this report. However, consensus has not been
reached for the gray or intermediate zone end-points (i.e.,
45–54 repeats or 40–54 repeats). As stated previously, the
issue with respect to the intermediate alleles is the inability
to assess transmission stability of such alleles in this range
(42). These approaches are generally applicable in traditional
prenatal genetic diagnosis (amniotic fluid, chorionic villi),
although the American College of Obstetricians and Gyne-
cologists recently defined unaffected as ?40, intermediate as
41 to 60, and premutation as 61 to 200 repeats (38).
FMR1 PREIMPLANTATION GENETIC DIAGNOSIS
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) permits the selec-
tion of embryos free of the full mutation or premutation.
However, there are significant challenges to employing this
technique to detect the fragile X mutation. First, family
studies must be informative. Ideally, the number of CGG
repeats on the normal FMR1 allele of the mother and father
should differ. In the approximately 40% of cases in which
the genetic situation is not directly informative, polymorphic
DNA markers linked to FMR1 must be employed (83, 84).
Another challenge to preimplantation diagnosis in fragile
X syndrome is that women who carry the FMR1 premutation
tend to have elevated baseline FSH levels (58–60). Conse-
quently, women with the premutation typically do not re-
spond well to exogenous gonadotropin stimulation, and this
limits the number of embryos available for PGD selection
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FMR1 TESTING
A strong case can be made for offering screening for the
FMR1 premutation to all women with premature ovarian
failure (35, 77). Current American College of Medical Ge-
netics (ACMG) practice guidelines recommend testing the
repeat region of FMR1 in women who are experiencing
reproductive problems associated with elevated FSH levels,
especially if they have [a] a family history of premature
ovarian failure, [b] a family history of fragile X syndrome, or
[c] male or female relatives with undiagnosed mental retar-
dation (42). Family history of tremor/ataxia syndrome due to
the FMR1 premutation or undiagnosed movement disorders
such as tremor and cerebellar ataxia would also raise suspi-
cion that ovarian failure or ovarian insufficiency may be
related to an FMR1 premutation.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
(ACOG) in their most recent committee opinion on the
subject stated, “If a woman has ovarian failure or an elevated
follicle-stimulating hormone level before the age 40 years
without a known cause, fragile X carrier screening should be
considered to determine whether she has a premutation”
(38). Guidelines published in 2006 by the European Society
for Human Genetics and the European Society of Human
Reproduction and Embryology suggest that testing FMR1 as
part of the diagnostic workup of female infertility may be
relevant, but specific recommendations were not provided
Increasingly, clinicians are responsible for engaging pa-
tients in discussions regarding available genetic tests based
on their personal history, family history, or their ethnic
group. For a limited but growing number of diseases, clini-
cians are responsible for discussing available genetic tests to
every couple planning to become pregnant (86). Nearly
universal screening for cystic fibrosis emerged in the wake
of a 1997 NIH Consensus Development Conference con-
cluding that this should be offered to couples currently
planning a pregnancy (87). By 2001, the ACOG and the
ACMG recommended a panel of mutations to be tested and
developed model resources for disseminating information to
patients and providers (88). Carrier screening and fetal di-
agnostic testing affords the family an opportunity to make
informed decisions regarding their health care. In this con-
text, primary providers of reproductive health care need to be
able to engage patients in discussions regarding available
genetic tests (86).
The prevalence of FMR1 premutations in the general
population is approximately 1 in 300 (81, 89), although a
recent meta-analysis suggests the premutation prevalence
in women may be as high as 1 in 129 (90). Based on
opinions developed in 2005, the ACMG does not recom-
mend widespread prenatal or preconception screening for
FMR1 premutations except as part of a well-defined clin-
ical research protocol (42). However, participants in this
workshop and focus group recommended screening fo-
cused on higher risk individuals. This includes women
with premature ovarian failure, family history of mental
retardation or autism, or features of fragile X syndrome.
Specialists, namely those in reproductive medicine, could
provide a supportive environment to explain the meaning
and implications of test results and facilitate access to
testing and referral to genetic counselors.
Recommendation against widespread population screen-
ing at present centers on concerns regarding the limited
resources available to perform effective patient teaching and
counseling associated with this complex disorder. Concerns
have also been raised with respect to the lack of knowledge
Fertility and Sterility?
about the stability of increased CGG repeat alleles identified
in the general population, particularly those in the interme-
diate range (35, 91). This is problematic as the frequency of
intermediate alleles is high in the general population (e.g., in
one report it was 1 in 52 using a definition of intermediate
repeat size of 41–60) (92).
Several groups have addressed screening for carrier
status at the population level (35, 81, 93–98). Two studies
from the United States have examined the question re-
garding population-based screening for premutations in
FMR1. One concluded that this is both clinically desirable
and cost-effective (81). An earlier study concluded that
the cost of testing needed to be reduced in order to make
FMR1 population screening cost-effective (95). A study
from England and Wales concluded that preconception
and prenatal screening for FMR1 abnormalities are feasi-
ble and acceptable by affected families and by the general
population (99). The reports suggest the need for prospec-
tive clinical studies.
A study in Israel offered preconception or prenatal testing
because of the high prevalence of premutation and full
mutation alleles in the general population. They concluded
that such screening was cost-effective and should be carried
out on a wide scale (98). More studies need to be conducted
to estimate the prevalence of premutations among different
racial and ethnic groups, but the incidence of 1 in 100 in
the Israeli population made for a favorable cost-benefit
Given the relatively high prevalence of premutation al-
leles in the general population, consideration might be given
to screening potential gamete donors (63). Theoretically,
men carrying an FMR1 premutation could avoid passing this
on to their daughters through the use of sperm-sorting tech-
niques to select only Y-bearing spermatozoa (63). However,
the procedure is controversial, and clinical experience with
this technique is still limited (100, 101).
THE FMR1 PREMUTATION AND REPRODUCTION:
A need exists for the relevant professional societies and
patient advocacy groups to establish standardized clinical
definitions, terminology, and testing recommendations that
will facilitate patient care and research. Specific goals with
respect to applying the current knowledge to the clinical
arena would be to  make recommendations regarding the
indications for FMR1 premutation testing in various popu-
lations;  develop standardized terminology and define the
continuum of altered ovarian function that can be experi-
enced by women who carry an FMR1 premutation; and 
make recommendations regarding the clinical evaluation of
ovarian function in women found to be carriers.
Areas of needed clinical research can be stratified into two
general perspectives:  management of asymptomatic
women known to carry an FMR1 premutation, and  man-
agement of women with infertility and altered ovarian func-
tion who have unknown FMR1 carrier status.
Asymptomatic Women Who Carry an FMR1 Premutation
For asymptomatic women who carry an FMR1 premutation,
research is needed that would achieve the following:
1. Determine the natural history.
a. Determine the nature of the onset of altered ovarian
function. How often does this occur among young
girls? What percentage experience primary amenor-
rhea or fail to ever establish regular menses during
b. Determine the prevalence of infertility. If regular
ovulatory menstrual cycles are present, do premuta-
tion carriers experience an increased rate of infertil-
c. Determine the specific clinical phenotype of prema-
ture ovarian failure in premutation carriers as com-
pared with other mechanisms. What are the long-term
health consequences of premature ovarian failure in
d. Determine the factors, both genetic and environmen-
tal, that increase the risk of altered ovarian function
among premutation carriers. How much of this risk is
explained by CGG repeat length?
2. Delineate the clinical evaluation of the reproductive axis
that should be offered to an asymptomatic premutation
3. Evaluate the behavioral and psychological impact that
the knowledge of increased risk of premature ovarian
failure has on young women who carry the premutation.
Symptomatic Women with Unknown FMR1 Premutation
For women who present with infertility or altered ovarian
function and who may or may not be an FMR1 carrier,
research is needed that would achieve the following:
1. Determine the prevalence of the premutation among
subsets of women with specific reproductive disorders:
a. Women with premature ovarian failure in various
ethnic groups. To date, most of the information has
come from White and Northern European or Ash-
kenazi Jew extractions.
b. Women with oligomenorrhea or polymenorrhea.
c. Women with infertility and regular menstrual cycles
who have increased serum FSH or other measures
indicative of altered ovarian function.
d. Women who respond poorly to gonadotropin stimu-
2. Evaluate the behavioral and psychological impact of
carrying the FMR1 premutation. That is, how does a
woman not only understand the cause of her reproduc-
tive disorder but also react to knowledge of an increased
risk of mental retardation among offspring.
Wittenberger et al.
Vol. 87, No. 3, March 2007
3. Define the genetic counseling and information needs of a
woman with reproductive disorders related to premuta-
tions in FMR1, both pretest and post-test.
4. Determine if the expansion rates to the full mutation
differ between alleles ascertained through the premuta-
tion state and those ascertained via a case of fragile X
5. Through research determine the mechanism of the altered
ovarian function among premutation carriers. Is the im-
paired ovarian function associated with the FMR1 pre-
mutation caused by an inadequate endowment of follicles
at birth, an accelerated loss of follicles, or some other
mechanism? Is it feasible to parallel the clinical studies
outlined above with studies in animal model systems in
order to identify the pathophysiologic mechanisms by
which the FMR1 premutation impairs ovarian function?
Can animal models identify the cell types and stages of
development affected? Can they determine the mecha-
nism of toxicity and the contribution of genetic and
environmental factors to premutation-related altered
Convincing evidence relates the FMR1 premutation to al-
tered ovarian function and loss of fertility. An FMR1 mRNA
gain-of-function toxicity seems to underlie this altered ovar-
ian function. Major gaps in knowledge regarding the natural
history of the altered ovarian function in women who carry
the FMR1 premutation make counseling about reproductive
plans a challenge.
The panels conclude that women with premature ovarian
failure are at increased risk of having an FMR1 premutation
and should be informed of the availability of fragile X
testing. Specialists in reproductive medicine can provide a
supportive environment in which to explain the implications
of FMR1 premutation testing, facilitate access to testing, and
make appropriate referral to genetic counselors.
Acknowledgment: One of the authors (L.M.N.) is a commissioned officer in
the United States Public Health Service.
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