Background: Some copy-number variants are associated with genomic disorders with extreme phenotypic heterogeneity. The cause of this variation is unknown, which presents challenges in genetic diagnosis, counseling, and management.
Methods: We analyzed the genomes of 2312 children known to carry a copy-number variant associated with intellectual disability and congenital abnormalities, using array comparative genomic hybridization.
Results: Among the affected children, 10.1% carried a second large copy-number variant in addition to the primary genetic lesion. We identified seven genomic disorders, each defined by a specific copy-number variant, in which the affected children were more likely to carry multiple copy-number variants than were controls. We found that syndromic disorders could be distinguished from those with extreme phenotypic heterogeneity on the basis of the total number of copy-number variants and whether the variants are inherited or de novo. Children who carried two large copy-number variants of unknown clinical significance were eight times as likely to have developmental delay as were controls (odds ratio, 8.16; 95% confidence interval, 5.33 to 13.07; P=2.11×10(-38)). Among affected children, inherited copy-number variants tended to co-occur with a second-site large copy-number variant (Spearman correlation coefficient, 0.66; P<0.001). Boys were more likely than girls to have disorders of phenotypic heterogeneity (P<0.001), and mothers were more likely than fathers to transmit second-site copy-number variants to their offspring (P=0.02).
Conclusions: Multiple, large copy-number variants, including those of unknown pathogenic significance, compound to result in a severe clinical presentation, and secondary copy-number variants are preferentially transmitted from maternal carriers. (Funded by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative and the National Institutes of Health.).