Systematic identification of genetic systems associated with phenotypes in patients with rare genomic copy number variations

Hum Genet. 2021 Mar;140(3):457-475. doi: 10.1007/s00439-020-02214-7. Epub 2020 Aug 10.


Copy number variation (CNV) related disorders tend to show complex phenotypic profiles that do not match known diseases. This makes it difficult to ascertain their underlying molecular basis. A potential solution is to compare the affected genomic regions for multiple patients that share a pathological phenotype, looking for commonalities. Here, we present a novel approach to associate phenotypes with functional systems, in terms of GO categories and KEGG and Reactome pathways, based on patient data. The approach uses genomic and phenomic data from the same patients, finding shared genomic regions between patients with similar phenotypes. These regions are mapped to genes to find associated functional systems. We applied the approach to analyse patients in the DECIPHER database with de novo CNVs, finding functional systems associated with most phenotypes, often due to mutations affecting related genes in the same genomic region. Manual inspection of the ten top-scoring phenotypes found multiple FunSys connections supported by the previous studies for seven of them. The workflow also produces reports focussed on the genes and FunSys connected to the different phenotypes, alongside patient-specific reports, which give details of the associated genes and FunSys for each individual in the cohort. These can be run in "confidential" mode, preserving patient confidentiality. The workflow presented here can be used to associate phenotypes with functional systems using data at the level of a whole cohort of patients, identifying important connections that could not be found when considering them individually. The full workflow is available for download, enabling it to be run on any patient cohort for which phenotypic and CNV data are available.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • DNA Copy Number Variations*
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genotype*
  • Humans
  • Phenotype*