Chromosomes are the cellular structures that contain our genetic information, or DNA.
Chromosomes can be divided into two types: autosomes (body chromosomes) and allosome (sex chromosomes). Certain genetic traits are linked to a person’s sex and are passed on through the sex chromosomes. The autosomes contain the rest of the genetic hereditary information. All act in the same way during cell division. Human cells have 23 pairs of chromosomes (22 pairs of autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes), giving a total of 46 per cell. In addition to these, human cells have many hundreds of copies of the mitochondrial genome. Sequencing of the human genome has provided a great deal of information about each of the chromosomes.
Chromosomal aberrations are disruptions in the normal chromosomal content of a cell and are a major cause of genetic conditions in humans, such as Down syndrome, although most aberrations have little to no effect. Some chromosome abnormalities do not cause disease in carriers, such as translocations, or chromosomal inversions, although they may lead to a higher chance of bearing a child with a chromosome disorder. Abnormal numbers of chromosomes or chromosome sets, called aneuploidy, may be lethal or may give rise to genetic disorders. Genetic counseling is offered for families that may carry a chromosome rearrangement.
The gain or loss of DNA from chromosomes can lead to a variety of genetic disorders. Human examples include:
Cri du chat, which is caused by the deletion of part of the short arm of chromosome 5. “Cri du chat” means “cry of the cat” in French; the condition was so-named because affected babies make high-pitched cries that sound like those of a cat. Affected individuals have wide-set eyes, a small head and jaw, moderate to severe mental health problems, and are very short.
Down syndrome, the most common trisomy, usually caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21 (trisomy 21). Characteristics include decreased muscle tone, stockier build, asymmetrical skull, slanting eyes and mild to moderate developmental disability.
Edwards syndrome, or trisomy-18. Symptoms include motor retardation, developmental disability and numerous congenital anomalies causing serious health problems. Ninety percent of those affected die in infancy. They have characteristic clenched hands and overlapping fingers.
Isodicentric 15, also called idic(15), partial tetrasomy 15q, or inverted duplication 15 (inv dup 15).
Jacobsen syndrome, which is very rare. It is also called the terminal 11q deletion disorder. Those affected have normal intelligence or mild developmental disability, with poor expressive language skills. Most have a bleeding disorder called Paris-Trousseau syndrome.
Klinefelter syndrome (XXY). Men with Klinefelter syndrome are usually sterile and tend to be taller and have longer arms and legs than their peers. Boys with the syndrome are often shy and quiet and have a higher incidence of speech delay and dyslexia. Without testosterone treatment, some may develop gynecomastia during puberty.
Patau Syndrome, also called D-Syndrome or trisomy-13. Symptoms are somewhat similar to those of trisomy-18, without the characteristic folded hand.
Small supernumerary marker chromosome. This means there is an extra, abnormal chromosome. Features depend on the origin of the extra genetic material. Cat-eye syndrome and isodicentric chromosome 15 syndrome (or Idic15) are both caused by a supernumerary marker chromosome, as is Pallister–Killian syndrome.
Triple-X syndrome (XXX). XXX girls tend to be tall and thin and have a higher incidence of dyslexia.
Turner syndrome (X instead of XX or XY). In Turner syndrome, female sexual characteristics are present but underdeveloped. Females with Turner syndrome often have a short stature, low hairline, abnormal eye features and bone development and a “caved-in” appearance to the chest.
Wolf–Hirschhorn syndrome, which is caused by partial deletion of the short arm of chromosome 4. It is characterized by growth retardation, delayed motor skills development, “Greek Helmet” facial features, and mild to profound mental health problems.
XYY syndrome. XYY boys are usually taller than their siblings. Like XXY boys and XXX girls, they are more likely to have learning difficulties.
Chromosome. (2016, October 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:48, October 6, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chromosome&oldid=742889510