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Classical, alternative, or lectin pathways may activate the complement system cascade. The classical pathway includes the C4 protein and functions in the prevention of immune complex precipitation and in clearance of immune complexes.Two isotypes of C4-C4A and C4B-are coded by genes located at two loci within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) on chromosome 6. While these isotypes share over 99% amino acid sequence homology, five nucleotide differences located in exon 26 are responsible for major structural and functional differences between the C4 isotypes.C4A and C4B are highly polymorphic with over 40 alleles, gene duplications, and "null alleles". C4 genes may be short (14.6 kb) or long (21 kb), due to the absence or presence of an endogenous retroviral sequence-HERV-K(C4)-in intron 9, respectively. The C4 gene copy number (GCN) can vary from 1-3 per haplotype or 2-6 per diploid genome. The variation in GCN leads to a range of C4 plasma protein concentrations among healthy subjects. In subjects with equal numbers of C4 genes, subjects with short genes have C4 plasma levels relatively higher than subjects with long genes.Variation of the C4 GCN, the gene size (long or short) and the C4 isotypes (C4A and C4B) may also lead to susceptibility to autoimmune disease. Therefore, in subjects with autoimmune disease, a low serum C4 level may be due to ongoing disease activity associated with complement activation and consumption or it may be due to genetic factors. Distinguishing between these will have clinical implications.Exact determination of GCN can be difficult, at least in part due to the high degree of homology between C4A and C4B and a variety of techniques has been described. This chapter describes a quantitative TaqMan real-time PCR (qPCR) copy number assay, based on our laboratory experience using this assay.

Citation

Alison S L Castley, O Patricia Martinez. Molecular analysis of complement component C4 gene copy number. Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.). 2012;882:159-71

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PMID: 22665233

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