Prevalence and disease progression of genetically-confirmed facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy type 1 (FSHD1) in China between 2001 and 2020: a nationwide population-based study

Elsevier, The Lancet Regional Health - Western Pacific, Volume 18, January 2022
Wang Z., Qiu L., Lin M., Chen L., Zheng F., Lin L. et al.

Background: Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy type 1 (FSHD1) is a rare disease, which is often underdiagnosed due to its heterogeneous presentations and complex molecular genetic basis, leading to a lack of population-based epidemiology data, especially of prevalence and disease progression.

Methods: Fujian Neuromedical Centre (FNMC) is a diagnosis centre for clinical-genetic FSHD in China, and the only one employing pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE)-based Southern blotting for all FSHD1 genetic tests. Three sources distributed across all six spatial zones in China, were used to obtain information regarding FSHD1 events, namely, FNMC, Genetic and Myopathy Group (branches of the Neurology Society of the Chinese Medical Association), and “FSHD-China” (an organization supported by FSHD patients). During 2001-2020, all genetically-confirmed FSHD1 from China were registered in FNMC. Follow-up was conducted in the 20-year period to obtain data on disease progression, which was mainly described in terms of independent ambulation loss.

Findings: Of the 1,744 FSHD1 genetic tests (total test number 1,802) included in the analysis, 997 (57.2%) patients from 620 families were diagnosed with FSHD1. The estimated prevalence of genetically-confirmed FSHD1 in China is 0.75 per million (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.70-0.79) during 2001-2020, with 0.78 (95% CI, 0.72-0.85) in males and 0.71 (95% CI, 0.65-0.78) in females. The estimated prevalence increased from 0.22 (95% CI, 0.19-0.26) per million in 2001-2015 to 0.53 (95% CI, 0.49-0.57) per million in 2016-2020 (p < 0.001). The prevalence in Fujian province was 7.10 per million, 4.66 per million, and 2.44 per million, during 2001-2020, 2001-2015, and 2016-2020, respectively. Among the 861 symptomatic plus asymptomatic patients of the total 997 patients, the median onset age at first-ever muscle weakness was 16 years of age (range 1-81); the median number of contracted D4Z4 repeats was 5 units (range 1-9); the median 4qA-allele-specific methylation level was 41% (range 14%-69%). Of the 977 symptomatic patients followed-up during 2001-2020, 117 patients (12.0%) lost independent ambulation. The expected duration from onset of first-ever muscle weakness to onset of independent ambulation loss was 40 years. The group with loss of independent ambulation had a smaller number of contracted D4Z4 repeats (p < 0.001) and had an earlier onset age of first-ever muscle weakness (p < 0.001) compared to the group without loss of independent ambulation.

Interpretation: Our research captures the largest genetically-confirmed FSHD1 population worldwide, to calculate its prevalence of 0.75 per million in China from 2001 to 2020. Approximately 12.0% of symptomatic plus asymptomatic patients of FSHD1 will lose independent ambulation in 40 years from onset of first-ever muscle weakness.