- Cite this article as:
- Epstein, C.J. Experientia (1986) 42: 1117. doi:10.1007/BF01941286
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Of particular concern to the human geneticist are the effects of genetic abnormalities on development. To gain an understanding of these effects it is necessary to engage in a reciprocal process of using knowledge of normal developmental events to elucidate the mechanisms operative in abnormal situations and then of using what is learned about these abnormal situations to expand our understanding of the normal. True developmental genes have not been described in man, although it is likely that they exist, but many developmental abnormalities are ascribable to mutations in genes coding for enzymes and structural proteins. Some of these even produce multiple malformation syndromes with dysmorphic features. These situations provide a precedent for asserting that not only monogenic developmental abnormalities, but also abnormalities resulting from chromosome imbalance must ultimately be explicable in molecular terms. However, the major problem confronted by the investigator interested in the pathogenesis of any of the chromosome anomaly syndromes is to understand how the presence of an extra set of normal genes or the loss of one of two sets of genes has an adverse effect on development. Several molecular mechanisms for which limited precedents exist may be considered on theoretical grounds. Because of the difficulties in studying developmental disorders in man, a variety of experimental systems have been employed. Particularly useful has been the mouse, which provides models for both monogenic and aneuploidy produced abnormalities of development. An example of the former is the mutation oligosyndactylism which in the heterozygous state causes oligosyndactyly and in the homozygous state causes early embryonic mitotic arrest. All whole arm trisomies and monosomies of the mouse can be produced experimentally, and of special interest is mouse trisomy 16 which has been developed as an animal model of human trisomy 21 (Down syndrome). In the long run, the most direct approach to elucidating the genetic problems of human development will involve not only the study of man himself but also of the appropriate experimental models in other species.