Bipolar disorder (BD) and schizophrenia (SCZ) are highly heritable diseases that affect more than 3% of individuals worldwide. Genome-wide association studies have strongly and repeatedly linked risk for both of these neuropsychiatric diseases to a 100 kb interval in the third intron of the human calcium channel gene CACNA1C. However, the causative mutation is not yet known. We have identified a human-specific tandem repeat in this region that is composed of 30 bp units, often repeated hundreds of times. This large tandem repeat is unstable using standard polymerase chain reaction and bacterial cloning techniques, which may have resulted in its incorrect size in the human reference genome. The large 30-mer repeat region is polymorphic in both size and sequence in human populations. Particular sequence variants of the 30-mer are associated with risk status at several flanking single-nucleotide polymorphisms in the third intron of CACNA1C that have previously been linked to BD and SCZ. The tandem repeat arrays function as enhancers that increase reporter gene expression in a human neural progenitor cell line. Different human arrays vary in the magnitude of enhancer activity, and the 30-mer arrays associated with increased psychiatric disease risk status have decreased enhancer activity. Changes in the structure and sequence of these arrays likely contribute to changes in CACNA1C function during human evolution and may modulate neuropsychiatric disease risk in modern human populations.
Keywords: CACNA1C; GWAS; bipolar disorder; chimpanzee; copy-number variation; human evolution; minisatellite; psychiatric disease; schizophrenia; tandem repeat.
Copyright © 2018. Published by Elsevier Inc.