Genomics. 2004 Jun;83(6):1046-52.

A family of human Y chromosomes has dispersed throughout northern Eurasia despite a 1.8-Mb deletion in the azoospermia factor c region.

Repping S, van Daalen SK, Korver CM, Brown LG, Marszalek JD, Gianotten J, Oates RD, Silber S, van der Veen F, Page DC, Rozen S.

Center for Reproductive Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

The human Y chromosome is replete with amplicons-very large, nearly identical repeats-which render it susceptible to interstitial deletions that often cause spermatogenic failure. Here we describe a recurrent, 1.8-Mb deletion that removes half of the azoospermia factor c (AZFc) region, including 12 members of eight testis-specific gene families. We show that this "b2/b3" deletion arose at least four times in human history-likely on inverted variants of the AZFc region that we find exist as common polymorphisms. We observed the b2/b3 deletion primarily in one family of closely related Y chromosomes-branch N in the Y-chromosome genealogy-in which all chromosomes carried the deletion. This branch is known to be widely distributed in northern Eurasia, accounts for the majority of Y chromosomes in some populations, and appears to be several thousand years old. The population-genetic success of the b2/b3 deletion is surprising, (i) because it removes half of AZFc and (ii) because the gr/gr deletion, which removes a similar set of testis-specific genes, predisposes to spermatogenic failure. Our present findings suggest either that the b2/b3 deletion has at most a modest effect on fitness or that, within branch N, its effect has been counterbalanced by another genetic, possibly Y-linked, factor.