DUF1220-domain copy number implicated in human brain-size pathology and evolution.
DUF1220 domains show the largest human-lineage-specific increase in copy number of any protein-coding region in the human genome and map primarily to 1q21, where deletions and reciprocal duplications have been associated with microcephaly and macrocephaly, respectively. Given these findings and the high correlation between DUF1220 copy number and brain size across primate lineages (R(2) = 0.98; p = 1.8 × 10(-6)), DUF1220 sequences represent plausible candidates for underlying 1q21-associated brain-size pathologies. To investigate this possibility, we used specialized bioinformatics tools developed for scoring highly duplicated DUF1220 sequences to implement targeted 1q21 array comparative genomic hybridization on individuals (n = 42) with 1q21-associated microcephaly and macrocephaly. We show that of all the 1q21 genes examined (n = 53), DUF1220 copy number shows the strongest association with brain size among individuals with 1q21-associated microcephaly, particularly with respect to the three evolutionarily conserved DUF1220 clades CON1(p = 0.0079), CON2 (p = 0.0134), and CON3 (p = 0.0116). Interestingly, all 1q21 DUF1220-encoding genes belonging to the NBPF family show significant correlations with frontal-occipital-circumference Z scores in the deletion group. In a similar survey of a nondisease population, we show that DUF1220 copy number exhibits the strongest correlation with brain gray-matter volume (CON1, p = 0.0246; and CON2, p = 0.0334). Notably, only DUF1220 sequences are consistently significant in both disease and nondisease populations. Taken together, these data strongly implicate the loss of DUF1220 copy number in the etiology of 1q21-associated microcephaly and support the view that DUF1220 domains function as general effectors of evolutionary, pathological, and normal variation in brain size.