Difference Between Mosaicism And Uniparental Disomy

Genetic variations play a crucial role in determining individual uniqueness and are pivotal in the study of various genetic disorders. Mosaicism and uniparental disomy (UPD) are two such genetic phenomena that, while less commonly discussed outside of genetic circles, have significant implications on personal health. Each originates under different circumstances and can lead to unique sets of complications and medical conditions.

Mosaicism refers to the presence of more than one genetically distinct cell line within an individual, usually stemming from post-zygotic mutation. Uniparental disomy, however, occurs when a person inherits two copies of a chromosome, or part of a chromosome, from one parent and none from the other. This can disrupt the normal balance of genetic inheritance and lead to disorders related to improper gene expression.

Understanding these conditions involves exploring their causes, mechanisms, and impacts. Mosaicism can arise at various stages of development, leading to a spectrum of manifestations, from completely benign to severely debilitating. Conversely, UPD can subtly alter genetic balances through mechanisms like imprinting, where the origin of the chromosome determines its activity pattern in the body.

Basics of Mosaicism

Definition and Explanation

Mosaicism is a genetic condition characterized by the presence of two or more populations of cells with different genotypes in an individual who has developed from a single fertilized egg. This means that a person with mosaicism can have some cells with normal genetic makeup and others with variations. This genetic diversity within a single organism sets the stage for a variety of potential clinical manifestations, ranging from no visible effects to significant physical and developmental abnormalities.

Causes of Mosaicism

Mosaicism typically arises from mutations during cell division after fertilization. The causes include:

  • Errors in DNA Replication: Small errors during the replication of DNA can cause one or more cells to differ genetically from their predecessors.
  • Chromosomal Non-disjunction: An error in cell division during early embryonic growth can lead to one daughter cell receiving an extra chromosome and another receiving none.
  • Mitotic Errors: Errors in mitosis, the process by which body cells divide, can lead to groups of cells with different genetic profiles.
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Types of Mosaicism

Mosaicism can appear in various forms, categorized based on the affected tissues:

  • Somatic Mosaicism: Occurs in body cells and can affect any part of the body except the germ cells, meaning it is not usually passed to the next generation.
  • Gonadal Mosaicism: Limited to the germ cells (sperm or eggs), which means it can be passed to offspring, leading to genetic diseases.
  • Mixed Gonadal Mosaicism: Involves both somatic and germ cells, possibly leading to symptoms in the individual and the risk of transmission to offspring.

Basics of Uniparental Disomy

Definition and Explanation

Uniparental disomy (UPD) occurs when an individual inherits both copies of a chromosome, or part of a chromosome, from one parent and none from the other. This can disrupt the normal balance of genetic inheritance and lead to various genetic disorders due to the lack of heterozygosity or the expression of recessive genes.

Causes of UPD

The primary causes of UPD are errors in meiosis, the cell division process that produces sperm and eggs:

  • Trisomic Rescue: An embryo starts with an extra chromosome but loses one during development. If the remaining pair comes from the same parent, UPD occurs.
  • Monosomic Rescue: The embryo initially lacks a chromosome but duplicates the remaining single chromosome from one parent.
  • Post-Fertilization Errors: Can occur if a chromosomal anomaly is corrected by the body, favoring chromosomes from one parent over the other.

Types of UPD

There are two main types of uniparental disomy:

  • Isodisomy: Involves the inheritance of two identical copies of a single chromosome from one parent, often leading to recessive disorders.
  • Heterodisomy: Involves the inheritance of two different chromosomes from the same parent, typically identified in early pregnancy through genetic testing.

Key Differences

Genetic Origins

While both conditions stem from genetic anomalies:

  • Mosaicism originates from errors after fertilization, affecting only some cells of the body. This can occur randomly or be influenced by environmental factors.
  • UPD generally results from meiotic errors, affecting the entire cellular makeup of an individual concerning specific chromosomes.
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Impacts on Health

The impact on health varies significantly between the two:

  • Mosaicism can lead to a wide range of outcomes, from benign conditions to severe disorders like skin abnormalities, intellectual disabilities, and organ dysfunction, depending on which cells are affected.
  • UPD often results in more predictable patterns of disorder, such as Prader-Willi syndrome or Angelman syndrome, based on which parent contributes the duplicate chromosome.

Detection Methods

Techniques for Identifying Mosaicism

Detecting mosaicism involves several sophisticated techniques due to its presence in a limited number of cells:

  • Karyotyping: Analyzes the complete set of chromosomes in a sample, useful for identifying large-scale chromosomal abnormalities.
  • Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (FISH): Uses fluorescent probes that bind to specific chromosome parts, highlighting variances between cells.
  • Array Comparative Genomic Hybridization (aCGH): Detects and locates DNA segments that are gained or lost across different cells.
  • Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS): Provides detailed information on genetic mutations, even at a low level of mosaicism in a sample.

Techniques for Detecting UPD

For uniparental disomy, the following techniques are commonly used:

  • Short Tandem Repeat (STR) Analysis: Examines specific DNA areas known for short repeated sequences. Comparing patterns in these sequences can identify UPD by noting discrepancies in parental origin.
  • Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) Array: Identifies variations at single nucleotide positions in DNA, helping detect whether two sets of chromosomes come from one parent.

Case Studies

Real-world Examples of Mosaicism

Mosaicism has been identified in various conditions:

  • Pigmentation Disorders: For instance, segmental dyschromatosis, where individuals exhibit different skin color patches.
  • Neurological Disorders: Such as some cases of epilepsy where mosaicism in neuronal cells leads to seizures.

Real-world Examples of UPD

Uniparental disomy has critical implications in disorders like:

  • Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS): Typically caused by UPD in chromosome 15, leading to symptoms such as constant hunger, poor muscle tone, and developmental challenges.
  • Angelman Syndrome: Also associated with chromosome 15, it leads to developmental delays, speech impairments, and distinct facial features.

Implications for Treatment

Treatment Options for Disorders Caused by Mosaicism

Treatment varies based on the affected cells and the severity of the symptoms:

  • Personalized Medical Management: Involves monitoring and treating specific symptoms such as hormonal imbalances or skin conditions.
  • Surgical Interventions: For physical anomalies, such as asymmetrical growth caused by mosaicism.
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Treatment Options for Disorders Caused by UPD

Management of UPD-related disorders often focuses on the specific syndrome:

  • Hormonal Therapies: Particularly in disorders like PWS, where growth hormone therapy can mitigate some physical symptoms.
  • Behavioral Therapies: Essential for managing developmental disorders, helping improve speech, social skills, and learning capabilities.

Genetic Counseling

Role of Genetic Counseling for Mosaicism

Genetic counseling for mosaicism involves:

  • Risk Assessment: Evaluating the probability of passing the condition to offspring.
  • Support and Guidance: Providing families with information on the condition and coping strategies.

Role of Genetic Counseling for UPD

For UPD, genetic counseling is crucial to:

  • Diagnosis Explanation: Helping families understand the genetic basis of the condition and its implications.
  • Predictive Testing: Offering testing for siblings and other family members to determine if they might also be affected or carriers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Mosaicism?

Mosaicism is a condition where individuals have two or more populations of cells with different genetic makeups. This can occur due to errors in DNA replication or division of cells in the embryo shortly after fertilization, leading to a mixture of normal and abnormal cells.

How does Uniparental Disomy affect health?

Uniparental disomy can lead to health issues when it disrupts the normal balance of gene expression. Diseases such as Prader-Willi and Angelman syndromes are linked to UPD due to the effects of genetic imprinting, where the presence of two chromosomes from one parent leads to abnormal gene expression.

Can Mosaicism be inherited?

Typically, mosaicism is not inherited because it arises from random genetic mutations that occur after fertilization. However, the effects of these mutations can be seen in various cells of the body, including germ cells, potentially leading to genetic variations in offspring.

What are common disorders associated with UPD?

Common disorders associated with uniparental disomy include conditions like Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, and Angelman syndrome. These disorders are often characterized by abnormal growth and developmental issues.

How is Mosaicism detected?

Mosaicism is detected through genetic tests that analyze samples from various tissues. Advanced techniques like fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and next-generation sequencing are commonly used to identify different genetic cell lines within an individual.


Mosaicism and uniparental disomy represent intriguing facets of genetic medicine, each playing distinct roles in the diversity of human biology and the complexity of genetic disorders. Their study not only advances our understanding of genetic variations but also enhances our ability to diagnose and treat associated conditions effectively.

Further research and awareness are essential to decipher the full implications of these genetic phenomena. As genetic testing becomes more refined and accessible, the potential to preemptively address and manage health issues associated with these conditions improves, leading to better outcomes for individuals affected by these complex genetic configurations.

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