Sequence analysis of the regulators of complement activation (RCA) cluster of genes at chromosome position 1q32 shows evidence of several large genomic duplications. These duplications have resulted in a high degree of sequence identity between the gene for factor H (CFH) and the genes for the five factor H-related proteins (CFHL1–5; aliases CFHR1–5). CFH mutations have been described in association with atypical haemolytic uraemic syndrome (aHUS). The majority of the mutations are missense changes that cluster in the C-terminal region and impair the ability of factor H to regulate surface-bound C3b. Some have arisen as a result of gene conversion between CFH and CFHL1. In this study we tested the hypothesis that nonallelic homologous recombination between low-copy repeats in the RCA cluster could result in the formation of a hybrid CFH/CFHL1 gene that predisposes to the development of aHUS.
Methods and Findings
In a family with many cases of aHUS that segregate with the RCA cluster we used cDNA analysis, gene sequencing, and Southern blotting to show that affected individuals carry a heterozygous CFH/CFHL1 hybrid gene in which exons 1–21 are derived from CFH and exons 22/23 from CFHL1. This hybrid encodes a protein product identical to a functionally significant CFH mutant (c.3572C>T, S1191L and c.3590T>C, V1197A) that has been previously described in association with aHUS.
CFH mutation screening is recommended in all aHUS patients prior to renal transplantation because of the high risk of disease recurrence post-transplant in those known to have a CFH mutation. Because of our finding it will be necessary to implement additional screening strategies that will detect a hybrid CFH/CFHL1 gene.
Tim Goodship and colleagues have identified a heterozygousCFH/CFHL1 hybrid gene which encodes a protein product identical to one previously described in association with atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome.
Atypical hemolytic uremic (aHUS) syndrome is a rare, chronic disease that can run in families. People with the condition are prone to developing kidney failure and high blood pressure, and are likely to have a shorter life span than healthy people. Previous work done by a group of researchers in Newcastle-on-Tyne, UK looked at the genetic underpinnings of aHUS in three families suffering from the condition. They found a region of the genome that was linked with the disease in all three families. That region was known to contain a gene for a protein called “factor H,” as well as a number of other genes for proteins that are involved in the same pathway as factor H in controlling an ancient defence system called complement. This system helps antibodies to kill invaders by marking any cell that is not protected by proteins such as factor H. Our own cells would be under constant threat without protective proteins such as factor H. Later studies found simple genetic mutations in people with aHUS, in the genes coding for factor H. However, other work suggested that in some families with aHUS, simple genetic mutations might not be the cause; instead more complicated rearrangements of the genome might occur which would then result in an abnormal factor H that incorporated part of the gene for another protective protein called factor H related protein 1.
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers knew that it was important to understand the exact genetic mutations linked with aHUS in different families. This was because the exact type of mutation would help them predict whether a kidney transplant is likely to be successful in treating an individual with aHUS who has developed kidney failure. In people with mutations affecting proteins produced by the kidney, a kidney transplant would be likely to work; but in people with mutations affecting factor H, which is produced by the liver, the disease would probably recur after a kidney transplant.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In this study, the researchers went back to one of the three families with aHUS they had previously studied. The researchers had shown before that in this family, the disease was linked with the genome region containing factor H, but no precise mutation in that region had been found. This time, the researchers screened the genome of the family members and looked in particular for a specific rearrangement of the genome that they suspected might be involved. They found that the genomes in this family had been shuffled in the factor H region, resulting in an abnormal version of factor H being produced.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The mutation these researchers identified is likely to result in development of aHUS that does not get better after a kidney transplant, because the abnormal factor H would still be produced in the liver after a transplant had been done. Therefore, the researchers suggest that patients with aHUS be checked for this particular mutation before it is decided whether to go ahead with a transplant.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030431.
US National Institutes of Health Office of Rare Diseases information about atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome
The Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) contains an entry on hemolytic uremic syndrome. OMIM is a database of human genes and genetic disorders developed by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information
The US National Kidney and Urologic Diseases has a page about hemolytic uremic syndrome
The Wikipedia has a page about HUS (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)