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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Inter-population variability of DEFA3 gene absence: correlation with haplotype structure and population variability

Ester Ballana1, Juan Ramón González12, Nina Bosch1 and Xavier Estivill123*

Author Affiliations

1 Genes and Disease Program, Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG), Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

2 CeGen, Spanish Nacional Genotyping Center, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

3 Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

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BMC Genomics 2007, 8:14  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-14

Published: 10 January 2007



Copy number variants (CNVs) account for a significant proportion of normal phenotypic variation and may have an important role in human pathological variation. The α-defensin cluster on human chromosome 8p23.1 is one of the better-characterized CNVs, in which high copy number variability affecting the DEFA1 and DEFA3 genes has been reported. Moreover, the DEFA3 gene has been found to be absent in a significant proportion of control population subjects. CNVs involving immune genes, such as α-defensins, are possibly contributing to innate immunity differences observed between individuals and influence predisposition and susceptibility to disease.


We have tested the DEFA3 absence in 697 samples from different human populations. The proportion of subjects lacking DEFA3 has been found to vary from 10% to 37%, depending on the population tested, suggesting differences in innate immune function between populations. Absence of DEFA3 was correlated with the region's haplotype block structure. African samples showed a higher intra-populational variability together with the highest proportion of subjects without DEFA3 (37%). Association analysis of DEFA3 absence with 136 SNPs from a 100-kb region identified a conserved haplotype in the Caucasian population, extending for the whole region.


Complexity and variability are essential genomic features of the α-defensin cluster at the 8p23.1 region. The identification of population differences in subjects lacking the DEFA3 gene may be suggestive of population-specific selective pressures with potential impact on human health.