Von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL) is an autosomal dominant cancer syndrome. Affected individuals are predisposed to multiple tumors, primarily of the central nervous system (CNS), eyes, adrenals, and kidneys. The VHL tumor suppressor gene on chromosome 3p26-25 is partially or completely deleted in 20 to 30% of families with VHL. We identified deletions ranging from 0.5 kb to 250 kb affecting part of or the entire VHL and flanking genes in 54 families. In 33 of the index patients, the breakpoints were precisely characterized by DNA sequencing. Of the 66 breakpoints, 90% were located in Alu elements, revealing Alu-mediated recombination as the major mechanism for large germline deletions of the VHL gene, which lies in a region of high Alu density. Interestingly, an AluYa5 element in VHL intron 2, the evolutionarily youngest Alu element and the only such element in the entire region, was found to be the most recombinogenic, involved in 7 out of the 33 deletions. In comparison to VHL patients in general, the 54 index cases and their affected relatives showed a higher occurrence of renal cell carcinomas (RCC) and of CNS hemangioblastomas. We not only noted the association of RCC with retention of the HSPC300 gene, but also observed a significant correlation between retention of HSPC300 and the development of retinal angiomas (AR). This study reveals that germline VHL deletions provide a particularly rich source for the study of Alu-mediated unequal crossover events, and provides evidence for a protective role of the loss of the actin-regulator gene HSPC300 for the development of both RCC and AR.
Copyright 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.