Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Human Genetics

First Advisor

Sarah Elsea


Smith-Magenis syndrome (SMS) is a multiple congenital abnormalities intellectual disability syndrome that results from a deletion of chromosome 17p11.2 or mutation of the retinoic acid inducted one gene (RAI1). SMS is characterized by a multitude of phenotypic features including craniofacial defects, short stature, obesity, intellectual disability, self-abusive behavior, sleep disturbance and behavioral abnormalities. Interestingly, although SMS is a clearly defined syndrome with a known molecular change at its foundation, ~40% of all candidate cases sent to the Elsea lab for evaluation do not have a mutation or deletion of RAI1. We hypothesize that at least one other locus must be responsible for this Smith-Magenis-like (SMS-like) phenotype. To address this hypothesis, we first compiled a cohort of 52 subjects who had been referred to the Elsea lab for a clinical diagnosis of SMS. Once these individuals were confirmed to not have an RAI1 mutation or deletion, their phenotypes were compiled and statically analyzed to distinguish whether SMS and SMS-like cohorts are different in the prevalence of the core phenotypes of SMS such as, but not limited to, sleep disturbance, self-abusive behavior and developmental delay. SMS-like and SMS cohorts are not different in prevalence for these core features. Next, all SMS-like subjects were sent for whole genome array comparative genomic hybridization (aCGH) to identify duplications or deletions of each individual’s genome which contribute to the phenotype observed. We identified 6 pathogenic copy number variants (CNVs) in six individuals which contribute directly to the clinical phenotype, including two del(2)(q37). This study enabled us to draw relationships between SMS and other syndromes that had never been appreciated before and helped to identify pathways in which RAI1 may function. Using the data from our SMS-like study we were able to further characterize two known syndromes; Deletion 2q37 syndrome (brachydactyly mental retardation syndrome) and deletion 2q23 syndrome. With regard to deletion 2q37, syndrome we used genomic data from known and new deletion 2q37 subjects to refine the critical region to one gene: the histone deacetylase 4 gene (HDAC4). Using both clinical and molecular clues, we were able to identify one subject from our SMS-like cohort who has an insertion in HDAC4 which results in a premature stop codon. We conclude from this study that mutation of HDAC4 results in brachydactyly mental retardation syndrome. With regard to deletion 2q23 syndrome there were only five known cases in the published literature to which we were able to add two more. Using as similar approach to our del2q37 study we refined the critical region for this syndrome to one gene, the methyl binding domain 5 gene (MBD5). Using a molecular and clinical approach we were able to conclude that haploinsufficiency of MBD5 results in the core phenotypes seen in del2q23 syndrome including microcephaly, intellectual disabilities, severe speech impairment, and seizures. Using all the data generated from the three previous studies we set out to characterize the molecular function of RAI1. We hypothesize that RAI1 is a transcription factor that regulates gene expression of core genes involved in development, neurological function, and circadian rhythm. Using a ChIP-chip based approach we identified 257 transcripts we believe RAI1 regulates. Following up on these transcripts, using in vitro and in vivo methods, we have been able to conclude that RAI1 is a positive regulator of CLOCK, the master regulator of the central circadian cycle. Taken together, these studies have given us insight into the specific molecular changes that contribute to SMS and SMS-like syndromes. We have unveiled pathways and genes which are important to normal human development and behavior and identified novel functions of RAI1. These studies will provide the foundation for the future discovery of the pathways affected.


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Date of Submission

May 2010