The gene for neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), mapping to 17q11.2, has one of the highest observed mutation rates, partially because of its large size and gene conversion primed by NF1 pseudogenes. We have previously shown by means of high resolution of fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) that a number of the loci flanking the NF1 gene are duplicated, in agreement with the reported presence of NF1 repetitive sequences (REPs). We report a direct tandem duplication of the NF1 gene identified in 17q11.2 by high-resolution FISH. FISH on stretched chromosomes with locus-specific probes revealed the duplication of the NF1 gene from the promoter to 3′UTR, but with at least the absence of exon 22. Fiber FISH with P1 artificial and bacterial artificial chromosomes, including the NF1 5′UTR and 3′UTR and flanking regions, visualized the direct tandem duplication with a similar, but not identical, genomic organization of the NF1 duplicon copies. Duplication was probably present in the human-chimpanzee-gorilla common ancestor, as demonstrated here by the finding of the duplicated NF1 gene at orthologous chromosome loci. The NF1 intrachromosomal duplication may contribute to the high whole-gene mutation rate by gene conversion, although the functional activity of the NF1 copy remains to be investigated. Detection of the NF1 duplicon by high-resolution FISH may pave the way to filling the gaps in the human genomic sequence of the pericentromeric 17q11.2 region.
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