Copy number variation is a defining characteristic of human subtelomeres. Human subtelomeric segmental duplication regions ('Subtelomeric Repeats') comprise about 25% of the most distal 500 kb and 80% of the most distal 100 kb in human DNA. Huge allelic disparities seen in subtelomeric DNA sequence content and organization are postulated to have an impact on the dosage of transcripts embedded within the duplicated sequences, on the transcription of genes in adjacent single copy DNA regions, and on the chromatin structures mediating telomere functions including chromosome stability. In addition to the complex duplicon substructure and huge allelic variations in extended subtelomere regions, both copy number variation and alternative sequence organizations for DNA characterize the sequences immediately adjacent to terminal (TTAGGG)n tracts ('subterminal DNA'). The structural variation in subterminal DNA is likely to have important consequences for expression of subterminal transcripts such as a newly-discovered gene family encoding actin-interacting proteins and a non-coding telomeric repeat containing RNA (TERRA) transcript family critical for telomere integrity. Major immediate challenges include discovering the full extent and nature of subtelomeric structural and copy number variation in humans, and developing methods for tracking individual allelic variants in the context of total genomic DNA.
Copyright 2009 S. Karger AG, Basel.