Alu elements, the short interspersed element numbering more than 1 million copies per human genome, can mediate the formation of copy number variants (CNVs) between substrate pairs. These Alu/Alu-mediated rearrangements (AAMRs) can result in pathogenic variants that cause diseases. To investigate the impact of AAMR on gene variation and human health, we first characterized Alus that are involved in mediating CNVs (CNV-Alus) and observed that these Alus tend to be evolutionarily younger. We then computationally generated, with the assistance of a supercomputer, a test data set consisting of 78 million Alu pairs and predicted ∼18% of them are potentially susceptible to AAMR. We further determined the relative risk of AAMR in 12,074 OMIM genes using the count of predicted CNV-Alu pairs and experimentally validated the predictions with 89 samples selected by correlating predicted hotspots with a database of CNVs identified by clinical chromosomal microarrays (CMAs) on the genomes of approximately 54,000 subjects. We fine-mapped 47 duplications, 40 deletions, and two complex rearrangements and examined a total of 52 breakpoint junctions of simple CNVs. Overall, 94% of the candidate breakpoints were at least partially Alu mediated. We successfully predicted all (100%) of Alu pairs that mediated deletions (n = 21) and achieved an 87% positive predictive value overall when including AAMR-generated deletions and duplications. We provided a tool, AluAluCNVpredictor, for assessing AAMR hotspots and their role in human disease. These results demonstrate the utility of our predictive model and provide insights into the genomic features and molecular mechanisms underlying AAMR.
© 2018 Song et al.; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.