Genome copy number changes (copy number variations: CNVs) include inherited, de novo and somatically acquired deviations from a diploid state within a particular chromosomal segment. CNVs are frequent in higher eukaryotes and associated with a substantial portion of inherited and acquired risk for various human diseases. CNVs are distributed widely in the genomes of apparently healthy individuals and thus constitute significant amounts of population-based genomic variation. Human CNV loci are enriched for immune genes and one of the most striking examples of CNV in humans involves a genomic region containing the chemokine genes CCL3L and CCL4L. The CCL3L-CCL4L copy number variable region (CNVR) shows extensive architectural complexity, with smaller CNVs within the larger ones and with interindividual variation in breakpoints. Furthermore, the individual genes embedded in this CNVR account for an additional level of genetic and mRNA complexity: CCL4L1 and CCL4L2 have identical exonic sequences but produce a different pattern of mRNAs. CCL3L2 was considered previously as a CCL3L1 pseudogene, but is actually transcribed. Since 2005, CCL3L-CCL4L CNV has been associated extensively with various human immunodeficiency virus-related outcomes, but some recent studies called these associations into question. This controversy may be due in part to the differences in alternative methods for quantifying gene copy number and differentiating the individual genes. This review summarizes and discusses the current knowledge about CCL3L-CCL4L CNV and points out that elucidating their complete phenotypic impact requires dissecting the combinatorial genomic complexity posed by various proportions of distinct CCL3L and CCL4L genes among individuals.
© 2010 The Authors. Clinical and Experimental Immunology © 2010 British Society for Immunology.