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Am J Hum Genet. 2010 Mar 12;86(3):364-77. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2010.01.035. Epub 2010 Mar 4.

Worldwide population analysis of the 4q and 10q subtelomeres identifies only four discrete interchromosomal sequence transfers in human evolution.

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Department of Human Genetics, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands.


Subtelomeres are dynamic structures composed of blocks of homologous DNA sequences. These so-called duplicons are dispersed over many chromosome ends. We studied the human 4q and 10q subtelomeres, which contain the polymorphic macrosatellite repeat D4Z4 and which share high sequence similarity over a region of, on average, >200 kb. Sequence analysis of four polymorphic markers in the African, European, and Asian HAPMAP panels revealed 17 subtelomeric 4q and eight subtelomeric 10qter haplotypes. Haplotypes that are composed of a mixture of 4q and 10q sequences were detected at frequencies >10% in all three populations, seemingly supporting a mechanism of ongoing interchromosomal exchanges between these chromosomes. We constructed an evolutionary network of most haplotypes and identified the 4q haplotype ancestral to all 4q and 10q haplotypes. According to the network, all subtelomeres originate from only four discrete sequence-transfer events during human evolution, and haplotypes with mixtures of 4q- and 10q-specific sequences represent intermediate structures in the transition from 4q to 10q subtelomeres. Haplotype distribution studies on a large number of globally dispersed human DNA samples from the HGDP-CEPH panel supported our findings and show that all haplotypes were present before human migration out of Africa. D4Z4 repeat array contractions on the 4A161 haplotype cause Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), whereas contractions on most other haplotypes are nonpathogenic. We propose that the limited occurrence of interchromosomal sequence transfers results in an accumulation of haplotype-specific polymorphisms that can explain the unique association of FSHD with D4Z4 contractions in a single 4q subtelomere.

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