Chimeric genes can be caused by structural genomic rearrangements that fuse together portions of two different genes to create a novel gene. We hypothesize that brain-expressed chimeras may contribute to schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia and control individuals were screened genome wide for copy-number variants (CNVs) that disrupted two genes on the same DNA strand. Candidate events were filtered for predicted brain expression and for frequency < 0.001 in an independent series of 20,000 controls. Four of 124 affected individuals and zero of 290 control individuals harbored such events (p = 0.002); a 47 kb duplication disrupted MATK and ZFR2, a 58 kb duplication disrupted PLEKHD1 and SLC39A9, a 121 kb duplication disrupted DNAJA2 and NETO2, and a 150 kb deletion disrupted MAP3K3 and DDX42. Each fusion produced a stable protein when exogenously expressed in cultured cells. We examined whether these chimeras differed from their parent genes in localization, regulation, or function. Subcellular localizations of DNAJA2-NETO2 and MAP3K3-DDX42 differed from their parent genes. On the basis of the expression profile of the MATK promoter, MATK-ZFR2 is likely to be far more highly expressed in the brain during development than the ZFR2 parent gene. MATK-ZFR2 includes a ZFR2-derived isoform that we demonstrate localizes preferentially to neuronal dendritic branch sites. These results suggest that the formation of chimeric genes is a mechanism by which CNVs contribute to schizophrenia and that, by interfering with parent gene function, chimeras may disrupt critical brain processes, including neurogenesis, neuronal differentiation, and dendritic arborization.
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