Somatic mosaicism and variable expressivity

Trends Genet. 2001 Feb;17(2):79-82. doi: 10.1016/s0168-9525(00)02178-8.


For more than 50 years geneticists have assumed that variations in phenotypic expression are caused by alterations in genotype. Recent evidence shows that 'simple' mendelian disorders or monogenic traits are often far from simple, exhibiting phenotypic variation (variable expressivity) that cannot be explained entirely by a gene or allelic alteration. In certain cases of androgen insensitivity syndrome caused by identical mutations in the androgen receptor gene, phenotypic variability is caused by somatic mosaicism, that is, somatic mutations that occur only in certain androgen-sensitive cells. Recently, more than 30 other genetic conditions that exhibit variable expressivity have been linked to somatic mosaicism. Somatic mutations have also been identified in diseases such as prostate and colorectal cancer. Therefore, the concept of somatic mutations and mosaicism is likely to have far reaching consequences for genetics, in particular in areas such as genetic counseling.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Hybrid Cells*
  • Mosaicism*
  • Mutation