Deletions of the AZFa region on the long arm of the human Y chromosome cause male infertility. Previous work has shown that this is an example of a genomic disorder, since most deletions are caused by non-allelic homologous recombination between endogenous retroviral elements (HERVs) flanking the 780 kb region. The reciprocal products of these deletion events, AZFa duplications, have not been reported to date. Here we show that duplication chromosomes exist in population samples by detecting Y-chromosomal short tandem repeat (YSTR) allele duplications within the AZFa region, and by showing that two chromosomes carrying these duplicated alleles contain a third junction-specific HERV sequence. Sequence analysis of these cases, which most likely represent independent duplication events, shows that breakpoints lie in the same region of inter-HERV sequence identity as do deletion breakpoints, and thus that the mechanism of duplication is indeed the reciprocal of deletion. Consideration of the accumulated Y-STR allele diversity between duplicated copies of the AZFa region indicates that one of the duplication chromosomes has been in the population for at least 17 generations, and therefore must be compatible with male fertility
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