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Natural copy number differences of tandemly repeated small nucleolar RNAs in the Prader-Willi syndrome genomic region regulate individual behavioral responses in mammals

By Maryam Keshavarz, Rebecca Krebs-Wheaton, Peter Refki, Yoland Savriama, Yi Zhang, Anja Guenther, Tanja M Brückl, Elisabeth B. Binder, Diethard Tautz

Posted 26 Nov 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/476010

The Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS) gene region is an imprinted gene complex involved in behavioral, metabolic and osteogenic functions. We have analyzed here the variation of two families of regulatory small nucleolar RNAs (SNORD115 and SNORD116) that are coded within the PWS and are expressed from the paternal chromosome. They are organized in two tandemly repeated clusters which are naturally copy number variable between individuals. We find that the copy numbers at these loci correlate with repeatable individual test scores for anxiety that are considered to constitute a component of the “personality” of individuals. We show this for different populations and species of mice, cavies and for the anxiety component of personality tests in humans. This is also the case for an inbred mouse strain (C57Bl6) implying that copy number variation creates phenotypic variability even in an isogenic background. In transcriptome data from brain samples of this strain we find SNORD copy-number correlated regulation of target genes that are known to be involved in influencing behavior. SNORD115 has previously been suggested to regulate splicing of the serotonin receptor Htr2c and we confirm this in our data. For SNORD116 we provide evidence that it regulates the expression level of the chromatin regulator Ankrd11 , which itself regulates GABA receptors, metabolic pathways, cell differentiation and osteogenesis. Intriguingly, we find that craniofacial shapes in mice correlate also with SNORD116 copy numbers. New copy number variants are generated at very high rates in mice, possibly at every generation, explaining why conventional genetic mapping could not detect this association. Our results suggest that the variable dosage of two regulatory RNAs are major determinants of individual behavioral differences and correlated traits in mammals.

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