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Am J Hum Genet. 2008 Feb;82(2):398-410. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2007.10.013.

Mechanisms and consequences of small supernumerary marker chromosomes: from Barbara McClintock to modern genetic-counseling issues.

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Department of Human Genetics, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


Supernumerary marker chromosomes (SMCs) are common, but their molecular content and mechanism of origin are often not precisely characterized. We analyzed all centromere regions to identify the junction between the unique chromosome arm and the pericentromeric repeats. A molecular-ruler clone panel for each chromosome arm was developed and used for the design of a custom oligonucleotide array. Of 27 nonsatellited SMCs analyzed by array comparative genomic hybridization (aCGH) and/or fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), seven (approximately 26%) were shown to be unique sequence negative. Of the 20 unique-sequence-positive SMCs, the average unique DNA content was approximately 6.5 Mb (range 0.3-22.2 Mb) and 33 known genes (range 0-149). Of the 14 informative nonacrocentric SMCs, five (approximately 36%) contained unique DNA from both the p and q arms, whereas nine (approximately 64%) contained unique DNA from only one arm. The latter cases are consistent with ring-chromosome formation by centromere misdivision, as first described by McClintock in maize. In one case, a r(4) containing approximately 4.4 Mb of unique DNA from 4p was also present in the proband's mother. However, FISH revealed a cryptic deletion in one chromosome 4 and reduced alpha satellite in the del(4) and r(4), indicating that the mother was a balanced ring and deletion carrier. Our data, and recent reports in the literature, suggest that this "McClintock mechanism" of small-ring formation might be the predominant mechanism of origin. Comprehensive analysis of SMCs by aCGH and FISH can distinguish unique-negative from unique-positive cases, determine the precise gene content, and provide information on mechanism of origin, inheritance, and recurrence risk.

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