Barcelona, Spain: What are the genes implicated in upright walking of humans? The discovery of four families in which some members only walk on all fours (quadrupedality) may help us understand how humans, unlike other primates, are able to walk for long periods on only two legs, a scientist will tell the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics tomorrow (Monday 2 June).
The quadrupedal families in Turkey previously attracted attention in 2005, when they were discovered. Now the Turkish team reports that they have found the first gene implicated in quadrupedal locomotion in these families.
Professor Tayfun Ozcelik, of Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey, and colleagues, studied four unrelated families where some members were affected by the rare quadrupedic condition, Unertan syndrome, which is also associated with imperfect articulation of speech, mental retardation, and defects in the cerebellum, a part of the brain involved in motor control. They found that the affected individuals in two families had mutations in the gene responsible for the expression of very low density lipoprotein receptor (VLDLR), a protein which is known to be critical to the proper functioning of the cerebellum during development.
Although the families lived in isolated villages 200-300 km apart and reported no ancestral relationships, the scientists expected to find a single genetic mutation implicated in the condition. They were surprised to find that this was not the case.
"We carried out genome-wide screening on these families", said Professor Ozcelik, "and found regions of DNA that were shared by all those family members who walk on all fours. However, we were surprised to find that genes on three different chromosomes are responsible for the condition in four different families.
"In families A and D there were mutations in VLDLR on chromosome 9, and in family B the phenotype maps to chromosome 17 to a region
|Contact: Mary Rice|
European Society of Human Genetics