A Comparison of 100 Human Genes Using an Alu Element-Based Instability Model

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The human retrotransposon with the highest copy number is the Alu element. The human genome contains over one million Alu elements that collectively account for over ten percent of our DNA. Full-length Alu elements are randomly distributed throughout the genome in both forward and reverse orientations. However, full-length widely spaced Alu pairs having two Alus in the same (direct) orientation are statistically more prevalent than Alu pairs having two Alus in the opposite (inverted) orientation. The cause of this phenomenon is unknown. It has been hypothesized that this imbalance is the consequence of anomalous inverted Alu pair interactions. One proposed mechanism suggests that inverted Alu pairs can ectopically interact, exposing both ends of each Alu element making up the pair to a potential double-strand break, or "hit". This hypothesized "two-hit" (two double-strand breaks) potential per Alu element was used to develop a model for comparing the relative instabilities of human genes. The model incorporates both 1) the two-hit double-strand break potential of Alu elements and 2) the probability of exon-damaging deletions extending from these double-strand breaks. This model was used to compare the relative instabilities of 50 deletion-prone cancer genes and 50 randomly selected genes from the human genome. The output of the Alu element-based genomic instability model developed here is shown to coincide with the observed instability of deletion-prone cancer genes. The 50 cancer genes are collectively estimated to be 58% more unstable than the randomly chosen genes using this model. Seven of the deletion-prone cancer genes, ATM, BRCA1, FANCA, FANCD2, MSH2, NCOR1 and PBRM1, were among the most unstable 10% of the 100 genes analyzed. This algorithm may lay the foundation for comparing genetic risks posed by structural variations that are unique to specific individuals, families and people groups. © 2013 Cook et al.

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