How is Duchenne muscular dystrophy inherited?

Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is an X-linked disease, which means that the gene causing the disorder is located on the X chromosome.1
  • Every boy inherits one of his mother’s X chromosomes and his father’s Y chromosome. If a boy’s X chromosome contains a faulty dystrophin gene, he will have DMD2
  • Girls inherit two X chromosomes, one from each parent. If a girl’s X chromosome contains a faulty dystrophin gene, they have a ‘back-up’ copy of the dystrophin gene, which usually compensates for the faulty one. A girl with the faulty dystrophin gene is called a ‘carrier’2

Can girls get DMD?

While the chances of having a girl with DMD are extremely low – approximately 1 in 50 million – it can happen.3

A girl will only develop DMD if both of her X chromosomes have faulty dystrophin genes. This may happen if she has a faulty dystrophin gene on the X chromosome she inherited from her mother and also develops a spontaneous mutation in the X chromosome that she inherited from her father.2,3

Girls affected by DMD normally have less severe symptoms than boys, but they may need the same treatment and care.2

A man with DMD can never pass on the condition to his son

This is because an affected father only passes a Y chromosome to his sons (the DMD-causing gene is located on the X chromosome). However, he will pass the DMD-causing gene onto his daughters, because each daughter inherits her father’s only X chromosome. These daughters will be carriers.2

DMD is nobody’s ‘fault’

People have no choice in the genetic conditions that are passed on in a family. Nobody did anything wrong to cause DMD so there is no reason to blame yourself or others.

*Carriers may show signs and symptoms of DMD and may need treatment
Adapted from Muscular Dystrophy Association.2

While the chances of having a girl with DMD are extremely low – approximately 1 in 50 million – it can happen3

1. Birnkrant DJ, et al. Lancet Neurol. 2018;17:251–267 [Part 1].
2. Muscular Dystrophy Association. Causes/inheritance. Available at https://www.mda.org/disease/duchenne-muscular-dystrophy/causes-inheritance [last accessed March 2021].
3. Duchenne UK. How is DMD caused in girls? Available at https://www.duchenneuk.org/faqs/girls-with-duchenne [last accessed March 2021].

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