The 22q11 region is involved in chromosomal rearrangements that lead to altered gene dosage, resulting in genomic disorders that are characterized by mental retardation and/or congenital malformations. Three such disorders - cat-eye syndrome (CES), der(22) syndrome, and velocardiofacial syndrome/DiGeorge syndrome (VCFS/DGS) - are associated with four, three, and one dose, respectively, of parts of 22q11. The critical region for CES lies centromeric to the deletion region of VCFS/DGS, although, in some cases, the extra material in CES extends across the VCFS/DGS region. The der(22) syndrome region overlaps both the CES region and the VCFS/DGS region. Molecular approaches have revealed a set of common chromosome breakpoints that are shared between the three disorders, implicating specific mechanisms that cause these rearrangements. Most VCFS/DGS and CES rearrangements are likely to occur by homologous recombination events between blocks of low-copy repeats (e.g., LCR22), whereas nonhomologous recombination mechanisms lead to the constitutional t(11;22) translocation. Meiotic nondisjunction events in carriers of the t(11;22) translocation can then lead to offspring with der(22) syndrome. The molecular basis of the clinical phenotype of these genomic disorders has also begun to be addressed. Analysis of both the genomic sequence for the 22q11 interval and the orthologous regions in the mouse has identified >24 genes that are shared between VCFS/DGS and der(22) syndrome and has identified 14 putative genes that are shared between CES and der(22) syndrome. The ability to manipulate the mouse genome aids in the identification of candidate genes in these three syndromes. Research on genomic disorders on 22q11 will continue to expand our knowledge of the mechanisms of chromosomal rearrangements and the molecular basis of their phenotypic consequences.
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