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Ann Hum Genet. 2008 Jan;72(Pt 1):2-9. Epub 2007 Nov 16.

Different gene expressions on the left and the right: a genotype/phenotype mismatch in need of attention.

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  • 1Galton Laboratory, Department of Biology, University College London, Wolfson House, 4 Stephenson Way, London, NW1 2HE, UK.


Discordance in monozygotic twins has traditionally been explained in terms of environmental influences. A recent investigation has found a difference in epigenetic markers in older but not in younger twins. However, phenotypic differences that depend on an individual's postnatal life style do not address the problem of discordance in congenital malformations, or the reason why malformations are frequently unilateral, often with a preference for one or the other side. One such condition, cleft lip with or without cleft palate, which is preferentially expressed on the left, is a multifactorial condition, that is caused by a failure of the critical timing necessary for different groups of cells to meet and develop into a normal face. This process is dependent on cell proliferation and migration, which are energy-dependent, while the additional requirement for apoptosis to allow cell fusion suggests the involvement of mitochondria. Recent progress in two separate areas of research could lead to a better understanding of the problem of facial clefts: (1) the recognition of an interaction between gene products and mitochondria in the aetiology of neurodegenerative diseases and (2) the discovery of an increasing number of genes, including transcription factors, growth factors and members of the TGF-beta signalling family, that are differentially expressed on the left and right side, thus pointing to a difference in their micro-environment. These findings emphasize the importance of investigating the activity of candidate genes for complex developmental processes separately on the left and right sides. Data presented in this review suggest that differential growth rates may lead to an inversion of laterality. A method is described to test for a possible mitochondrial difference between left and right sides, using a mouse model with cleft lip.

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