Females possess two X-chromosomes, males have one X and one Y chromosome. Since the mutations causing the disease are recessive, a woman carrying the defect on one of her X-chromosomes may not be affected by it, as the equivalent allele on her other chromosome should express itself to produce the necessary clotting factors. However, the Y-chromosome in men has no gene for factors VIII or IX. If the genes responsible for production of factor VIII or factor IX present on a male's X-chromosome are deficient there is no equivalent on the Y-chromosome, so the deficient gene is not masked by the dominant allele and he will develop the illness.
Since a male receives his single X-chromosome from his mother, the son of a healthy female silently carrying the deficient gene will have a 50% chance of inheriting that gene from her and with it the disease; and if his mother is affected with haemophilia, he will have a 100% chance of being a haemophiliac. In contrast, for a female to inherit the disease, she must receive two deficient X-chromosomes, one from her mother and the other from her father (who must therefore be a haemophiliac himself). Hence haemophilia is far more common among males than females. However, it is possible for female carriers to become mild haemophiliacs due to lyonisation (inactivation) of the X chromosomes. Haemophiliac daughters are more common than they once were, as improved treatments for the disease have allowed more haemophiliac males to survive to adulthood and become parents. Adult females may experience menorrhagia (heavy periods) due to the bleeding tendency. The pattern of inheritance is criss-cross type. This type of pattern is also seen in colour blindness.
A mother who is a carrier has a 50% chance of passing the faulty X chromosome to her daughter, while an affected father will always pass on the affected gene to his daughters. A son cannot inherit the defective gene from his father.
Genetic testing and genetic counselling is recommended for families with haemophilia. Prenatal testing, such as amniocentesis, is available to pregnant women who may be carriers of the condition.
As with all genetic disorders, it is of course also possible for a human to acquire it spontaneously through mutation, rather than inheriting it, because of a new mutation in one of their parents' gametes. Spontaneous mutations account for about 33% of all cases of haemophilia A. About 30% of cases of haemophilia B are the result of a spontaneous gene mutation.
If a female gives birth to a haemophiliac child, either the female is a carrier for the disease or the haemophilia was the result of a spontaneous mutation. Until modern direct DNA testing, however, it was impossible to determine if a female with only healthy children was a carrier or not. Generally, the more healthy sons she bore, the higher the probability that she was not a carrier.
If a male is afflicted with the disease and has children with a female who is not even a carrier, his daughters will be carriers of haemophilia. His sons, however, will not be affected with the disease. The disease is X-linked and the father cannot pass haemophilia through the Y chromosome. Males with the disorder are then no more likely to pass on the gene to their children than carrier females, though all daughters they sire will be carriers and all sons they father will not have haemophilia (unless the mother is a carrier).
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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011