Many of the complement regulatory genes within the RCA cluster (1q32) have arisen through genomic duplication and the resulting high degree of sequence identity is likely to predispose to gene conversion events. The highest degree of identity is between the genes for factor H (CFH) and five factor H-related proteins--CFHL1, CFHL2, CFHL3, CFHL4, and CFHL5. CFH mutations are associated with atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS). In the Newcastle cohort of 157 aHUS patients we have identified CFH mutations in 25 families or individuals. Eleven of these 25 independent mutations are either c.3226C>G,Q1076E; c.3572C>T,S1191L; c.3590T>C,V1197A or combined c.3572C>T,S1191L/c.3590T>C,V1197A. Sequence analysis shows that all four of these changes could have arisen as a result of gene conversion between CFH and CFHL1. Analysis of parental samples in two patients with S1191L/V1197A has shown that the changes are de novo thus providing conclusive evidence that gene conversion is the mutational mechanism in these two cases. To confirm that S1191L and V1197A are disease predisposing we examined their functional significance in three ways - analysis of the C3b/C3d binding characteristics of recombinant mutant S1191L/V1197A protein, heparin affinity chromatography and haemolytic assays of serum samples from aHUS patients carrying these changes. The results showed that these changes resulted in impaired C3b binding and a defective capacity to control complement activation on cellular surfaces. We, therefore, provide conclusive evidence that gene conversion is responsible for functionally significant CFH mutations in aHUS.
2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.