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Interpreting short tandem repeat variations in humans using mutational constraint

By Melissa Gymrek, Thomas Willems, David Reich, Yaniv Erlich

Posted 09 Dec 2016
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/092734 (published DOI: 10.1038/ng.3952)

Identifying regions of the genome that are depleted of mutations can reveal potentially deleterious variants. Short tandem repeats (STRs), also known as microsatellites, are among the largest contributors of de novo mutations in humans and are implicated in a variety of human disorders. However, because of the challenges STRs pose to bioinformatics tools, per-locus studies of STR mutations have been limited to highly ascertained panels of several dozen loci. Here, we harnessed bioinformatics tools and a novel analytical framework to estimate mutation parameters for each STR in the human genome by correlating STR genotypes with local sequence heterozygosity. We applied our method to obtain robust estimates of the impact of local sequence features on mutation parameters and used this to create a framework for measuring constraint at STRs by comparing observed vs. expected mutation rates. Constraint scores identified known pathogenic variants with early onset effects. Our constraint metrics will provide a valuable tool for prioritizing pathogenic STRs in medical genetics studies.

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