Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), an autosomal dominant disease caused by mutations in the LDL receptor gene, is five times more frequent in the Afrikaner population of South Africa than it is in the population of the United States and Europe. It has been proposed that the high frequency is due to a founder effect. In this paper, we characterized 24 mutant LDL receptor alleles from 12 Afrikaner individuals homozygous for FH. We identified two mutations that together makeup > 95% of the mutant LDL receptor genes represented in our sample. Both mutations were basepair substitutions that result in single-amino acid changes. Each mutation can be detected readily with the polymerase chain reaction and restriction analysis. The finding of two common LDL receptor mutations in the Afrikaner FH homozygotes predicts that these mutations will predominate in the Afrikaner population and that the high frequency of FH is due to a founder effect. The increased incidence of ischemic heart disease in the Afrikaner population may in part be due to the high frequency of these two mutations in the LDL receptor gene.
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