Progress in the functional studies of human olfactory receptors has been largely hampered by the lack of a reliable experimental model system. Although transgenic approaches in mice could characterize the function of individual olfactory receptors, the presence of over 300 functional genes in the human genome becomes a daunting task. Thus, the characterization of individuals with a genetic susceptibility to altered olfaction coupled with the absence of particular olfactory receptor genes will allow phenotype/genotype correlations and vindicate the function of specific olfactory receptors with their cognate ligands. We characterized a 118 kb β-globin deletion and found that its 3′ end breakpoint extends to the neighboring olfactory receptor region downstream of the β-globin gene cluster. This deletion encompasses six contiguous olfactory receptor genes (OR51V1, OR52Z1, OR51A1P, OR52A1, OR52A5, and OR52A4) all of which are expressed in the brain. Topology analysis of the encoded proteins from these olfactory receptor genes revealed that OR52Z1, OR52A1, OR52A5, and OR52A4 are predicted to be functional receptors as they display integral characteristics of G-proteins coupled receptors. Individuals homozygous for the 118 kb β-globin deletion are afflicted with β-thalassemia due to a homozygous deletion of the β-globin gene and have no alleles for the above mentioned olfactory receptors genes. This is the first example of a homozygous deletion of olfactory receptor genes in human. Although altered olfaction remains to be ascertained in these individuals, such a study can be carried out in β-thalassemia patients from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines where this mutation is common. Furthermore, OR52A1 contains a γ-globin enhancer, which was previously shown to confer continuous expression of the fetal γ-globin genes. Thus, the hypothesis that β-thalassemia individuals, who are homozygous for the 118 kb deletion, may also have an exacerbation of their anemia due to the deletion of two copies of the γ-globin enhancer element is worthy of consideration
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