Extreme enrichment of VNTR-associated polymorphicity in human subtelomeres: genes with most VNTRs are predominantly expressed in the brain

Jasper Linthorst, Wim Meert, Matthew S. Hestand, Jonas Korlach, Joris Robert Vermeesch, Marcel J. T. Reinders, Henne Holstege*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The human genome harbors numerous structural variants (SVs) which, due to their repetitive nature, are currently underexplored in short-read whole-genome sequencing approaches. Using single-molecule, real-time (SMRT) long-read sequencing technology in combination with FALCON-Unzip, we generated a de novo assembly of the diploid genome of a 115-year-old Dutch cognitively healthy woman. We combined this assembly with two previously published haploid assemblies (CHM1 and CHM13) and the GRCh38 reference genome to create a compendium of SVs that occur across five independent human haplotypes using the graph-based multi-genome aligner REVEAL. Across these five haplotypes, we detected 31,680 euchromatic SVs (>50 bp). Of these, ~62% were comprised of repetitive sequences with ‘variable number tandem repeats’ (VNTRs), ~10% were mobile elements (Alu, L1, and SVA), while the remaining variants were inversions and indels. We observed that VNTRs with GC-content >60% and repeat patterns longer than 15 bp were 21-fold enriched in the subtelomeric regions (within 5 Mb of the ends of chromosome arms). VNTR lengths can expand to exceed a critical length which is associated with impaired gene transcription. The genes that contained most VNTRs, of which PTPRN2 and DLGAP2 are the most prominent examples, were found to be predominantly expressed in the brain and associated with a wide variety of neurological disorders. Repeat-induced variation represents a sizeable fraction of the genetic variation in human genomes and should be included in investigations of genetic factors associated with phenotypic traits, specifically those associated with neurological disorders. We make available the long and short-read sequence data of the supercentenarian genome, and a compendium of SVs as identified across 5 human haplotypes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number369
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

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