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Nat Genet. 2006 Apr;38(4):463-7. Epub 2006 Feb 26.

High mutation rates have driven extensive structural polymorphism among human Y chromosomes.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Whitehead Institute, and Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142, USA.


Although much structural polymorphism in the human genome has been catalogued, the kinetics of underlying change remain largely unexplored. Because human Y chromosomes are clonally inherited, it has been possible to capture their detailed relationships in a robust, worldwide genealogical tree. Examination of structural variation across this tree opens avenues for investigating rates of underlying mutations. We selected one Y chromosome from each of 47 branches of this tree and searched for large-scale variation. Four chromosomal regions showed extensive variation resulting from numerous large-scale mutations. Within the tree encompassed by the studied chromosomes, the distal-Yq heterochromatin changed length > or = 12 times, the TSPY gene array changed length > or = 23 times, the 3.6-Mb IR3/IR3 region changed orientation > or = 12 times and the AZFc region was rearranged > or = 20 times. After determining the total time spanned by all branches of this tree (approximately 1.3 million years or 52,000 generations), we converted these mutation counts to lower bounds on rates: > or = 2.3 x 10(-4), > or = 4.4 x 10(-4), > or = 2.3 x 10(-4) and > or = 3.8 x 10(-4) large-scale mutations per father-to-son Y transmission, respectively. Thus, high mutation rates have driven extensive structural polymorphism among human Y chromosomes. At the same time, we found limited variation in the copy number of Y-linked genes, which raises the possibility of selective constraints.

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