Glucokinase, the major enzyme that phosphorylates glucose upon entry into liver and islet β-cells, has been considered a prime candidate for inherited defects predisposing to NIDDM. Now that the human gene has been isolated, this question has been addressed directly. Polymorphic markers flanking the gene were identified. These markers (microsatellites) are composed of variable numbers of dinucleotide repeats that vary in size, resulting in different alleles. Variably sized alleles can be typed rapidly from genomic DNA of individuals by the PCR. Studies of inheritance of glucokinase genes have revealed significant linkage in families with early-onset NIDDM, or MODY, and mutations have been identified within the coding region of the gene in some families. These studies are extremely encouraging, as they indicate that genes can be identified even in this heterogeneous genetic disorder. This study considers the phenotypes that result from glucokinase defects and the relationship of MODY to NIDDM, and it estimates the role of glucokinase defects in NIDDM in general.

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