Numerous disease syndromes are associated with regions of copy number variation (CNV) in the human genome and, in most cases, the pathogenicity of the CNV is thought to be related to altered dosage of the genes contained within the affected segment. However, establishing the contribution of individual genes to the overall pathogenicity of CNV syndromes is difficult and often relies on the identification of potential candidates through manual searches of the literature and online resources. We describe here the development of a computational framework to comprehensively search phenotypic information from model organisms and single-gene human hereditary disorders, and thus speed the interpretation of the complex phenotypes of CNV disorders. There are currently more than 5000 human genes about which nothing is known phenotypically but for which detailed phenotypic information for the mouse and/or zebrafish orthologs is available. Here, we present an ontology-based approach to identify similarities between human disease manifestations and the mutational phenotypes in characterized model organism genes; this approach can therefore be used even in cases where there is little or no information about the function of the human genes. We applied this algorithm to detect candidate genes for 27 recurrent CNV disorders and identified 802 gene-phenotype associations, approximately half of which involved genes that were previously reported to be associated with the individual phenotypic features and half of which were novel candidates. A total of 431 associations were made solely on the basis of model organism phenotype data. Additionally, we observed a striking, statistically significant tendency for individual disease phenotypes to be associated with multiple genes located within a single CNV region, a phenomenon that we denote as pheno-clustering. Many of the clusters also display statistically significant similarities in protein function or vicinity within the protein-protein interaction network. Our results provide a basis for understanding previously un-interpretable genotype-phenotype correlations in pathogenic CNVs and for mobilizing the large amount of model organism phenotype data to provide insights into human genetic disorders.
- Received June 7, 2012.
- Accepted October 15, 2012.
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