Autosomal recessive Stargardt disease (STGD) has been associated with substantial genetic and phenotypic heterogeneity. By systematic clinical analyses of STGD patients with complete genetic data (i.e. identified mutations on both alleles of the ABCA4 gene), we set out to determine phenotypic subtypes and to correlate these with specific ABCA4 alleles. Twenty-eight patients from 18 families with STGD/fundus flavimaculatus were investigated. All patients were submitted to complete ophthalmologic examination, electrophysiology, fluorescein angiography and ABCA4 gene chip analysis. Two main clinical phenotypes were observed among the examined patients. The severe phenotype was characterized by the onset of the disease <20 years and reduced ERG response, whereas the mild phenotype presented with later onset of the disease and a normal ERG response. Genetic analysis of the ABCA4 gene revealed, in the severe group, more frequently deletions, stop codons and insertions as compared to the mild phenotype group (p = 0.0113 by Fisher’s exact test). Moreover, the compound heterozygous mutations G1961E/5018 + 2T → C found in 7 patients from 3 unrelated STGD families were associated with a mild phenotype in all subjects, except 1. This study documented variability of the clinical expression of STGD in relation to the age of onset of the disease, fundus appearance and the ERG response and allowed to subdivide patients into a severe and a mild phenotype group. These findings suggest that an extensive and comprehensive genetic analysis of STGD patients combined with thorough clinical evaluation, including the careful recording of the age of onset of the disease, would allow a more precise prognostic evaluation.
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