Down syndrome (DS), caused by trisomy of human chromosome 21 (Hsa21), is the most common cause of congenital heart defects (CHD), yet the genetic and mechanistic causes of these defects remain unknown. To identify dosage-sensitive genes that cause DS phenotypes, including CHD, we used chromosome engineering to generate a mapping panel of 7 mouse strains with partial trisomies of regions of mouse chromosome 16 orthologous to Hsa21. Using high-resolution episcopic microscopy and three-dimensional modeling we show that these strains accurately model DS CHD. Systematic analysis of the 7 strains identified a minimal critical region sufficient to cause CHD when present in 3 copies, and showed that it contained at least two dosage-sensitive loci. Furthermore, two of these new strains model a specific subtype of atrio-ventricular septal defects with exclusive ventricular shunting and demonstrate that, contrary to current hypotheses, these CHD are not due to failure in formation of the dorsal mesenchymal protrusion.Down syndrome is a condition caused by having an extra copy of one of the 46 chromosomes found inside human cells. Specifically, instead of two copies, people with Down syndrome are born with three copies of chromosome 21. This results in many different effects, including learning and memory problems, heart defects and Alzheimer’s disease. Each of these different effects is caused by having a third copy of one or more of the approximately 230 genes found on chromosome 21. However, it is not known which of these genes cause any of these effects, and how an extra copy of the genes results in such changes.Now, Lana-Elola et al. have investigated which genes on chromosome 21 cause the heart defects seen in Down syndrome, and how those heart defects come about. This involved engineering a new strain of mouse that has an extra copy of 148 mouse genes that are very similar to 148 genes found on chromosome 21 in humans. Like people with Down syndrome, this mouse strain developed heart defects when it was an embryo.Using a series of six further mouse strains, Lana-Elola et al. then narrowed down the potential genes that, when in three copies, are needed to cause the heart defects, to a list of just 39 genes. Further experiments then showed that at least two genes within these 39 genes were required in three copies to cause the heart defects.The next step will be to identify the specific genes that actually cause the heart defects, and then work out how a third copy of these genes causes the developmental problems.
Lana-Elola, E., Watson-Scales, S., Slender, A., Gibbins, D., Martineau, A., Douglas, C., … Tybulewicz, V. L. (2016). Genetic dissection of Down syndrome-associated congenital heart defects using a new mouse mapping panel. ELife, 5. https://doi.org/10.7554/elife.11614