Mechanisms of Origin, Phenotypic Effects and Diagnostic Implications of Complex Chromosome Rearrangements

Mol Syndromol. 2015 Sep;6(3):110-34. doi: 10.1159/000438812. Epub 2015 Aug 15.


Complex chromosome rearrangements (CCRs) are currently defined as structural genome variations that involve more than 2 chromosome breaks and result in exchanges of chromosomal segments. They are thought to be extremely rare, but their detection rate is rising because of improvements in molecular cytogenetic technology. Their population frequency is also underestimated, since many CCRs may not elicit a phenotypic effect. CCRs may be the result of fork stalling and template switching, microhomology-mediated break-induced repair, breakage-fusion-bridge cycles, or chromothripsis. Patients with chromosomal instability syndromes show elevated rates of CCRs due to impaired DNA double-strand break responses during meiosis. Therefore, the putative functions of the proteins encoded by ATM, BLM, WRN, ATR, MRE11, NBS1, and RAD51 in preventing CCRs are discussed. CCRs may exert a pathogenic effect by either (1) gene dosage-dependent mechanisms, e.g. haploinsufficiency, (2) mechanisms based on disruption of the genomic architecture, such that genes, parts of genes or regulatory elements are truncated, fused or relocated and thus their interactions disturbed - these mechanisms will predominantly affect gene expression - or (3) mixed mutation mechanisms in which a CCR on one chromosome is combined with a different type of mutation on the other chromosome. Such inferred mechanisms of pathogenicity need corroboration by mRNA sequencing. Also, future studies with in vitro models, such as inducible pluripotent stem cells from patients with CCRs, and transgenic model organisms should substantiate current inferences regarding putative pathogenic effects of CCRs. The ramifications of the growing body of information on CCRs for clinical and experimental genetics and future treatment modalities are briefly illustrated with 2 cases, one of which suggests KDM4C (JMJD2C) as a novel candidate gene for mental retardation.

Keywords: Complex chromosome rearrangements; DNA double-strand break; Haploinsufficiency; Mixed mutation mechanisms; Structural genome variations; Triplosufficiency.

Publication types

  • Review