We review the contributions and limitations of genome-wide array-based identification of copy number variants (CNVs) in the clinical diagnostic evaluation of patients with mental retardation (MR) and other brain-related disorders. In unselected MR referrals a causative genomic gain or loss is detected in 14–18% of cases. Usually, such CNVs arise de novo, are not found in healthy subjects, and have a major impact on the phenotype by altering the dosage of multiple genes. This high diagnostic yield justifies array-based segmental aneuploidy screening as the initial genetic test in these patients. This also pertains to patients with autism (expected yield about 5–10% in nonsyndromic and 10–20% in syndromic patients) and schizophrenia (at least 5% yield). CNV studies in idiopathic generalized epilepsy, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, major depressive disorder and Tourette syndrome indicate that patients have, on average, a larger CNV burden as compared to controls. Collectively, the CNV studies suggest that a wide spectrum of disease-susceptibility variants exists, most of which are rare (<0.1%) and of variable and usually small effect. Notwithstanding, a rare CNV can have a major impact on the phenotype. Exome sequencing in MR and autism patients revealed de novo mutations in protein coding genes in 60 and 20% of cases, respectively. Therefore, it is likely that arrays will be supplanted by next-generation sequencing methods as the initial and perhaps ultimate diagnostic tool in patients with brain-related disorders, revealing both CNVs and mutations in a single test.
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