Reviewed October 2012
What is chromosome 1?
Humans normally have 46 chromosomes in each cell, divided into 23 pairs. Two copies of chromosome 1, one copy inherited from each parent, form one of the pairs. Chromosome 1 is the largest human chromosome, spanning about 249 million DNA building blocks (base pairs) and representing approximately 8 percent of the total DNA in cells.
Identifying genes on each chromosome is an active area of genetic research. Because researchers use different approaches to predict the number of genes on each chromosome, the estimated number of genes varies. Chromosome 1 likely contains 2,000 to 2,100 genes that provide instructions for making proteins. These proteins perform a variety of different roles in the body.
Genes on chromosome 1 are among the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 total genes in the human genome.
How are changes in chromosome 1 related to health conditions?
Many genetic conditions are related to changes in particular genes on chromosome 1.
This list of disorders associated with genes on chromosome 1 provides links to additional information.
Changes in the structure or number of copies of a chromosome can also cause problems with health and development. The following chromosomal conditions are associated with such changes in chromosome 1.
1p36 deletion syndrome
1p36 deletion syndrome is caused by a deletion of genetic material from a specific region in the short (p) arm of chromosome 1. The signs and symptoms of this disorder, which include intellectual disability, distinctive facial features, and structural abnormalities in several body systems, are probably related to the loss of multiple genes in this region. The size of the deletion varies among affected individuals.
1q21.1 microdeletion is a chromosomal change in which a small piece of the long (q) arm of chromosome 1 is deleted in each cell. Specifically, affected individuals are missing about 1.35 million DNA building blocks (base pairs), also written as 1.35 megabases (Mb), in the q21.1 region. The exact size of the deleted region varies, but it typically contains at least nine genes. The loss of several of these genes probably contributes to the various signs and symptoms that can be associated with a 1q21.1 microdeletion. Related features can include delayed development, intellectual disability, physical abnormalities, and neurological and psychiatric problems; however, some individuals with a 1q21.1 microdeletion have no obvious signs or symptoms.
Deletions within region 1p36 have also been associated with another condition called neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma is a type of cancerous tumor composed of immature nerve cells (neuroblasts). These deletions are somatic mutations, which means they occur during a person's lifetime and are present only in the cells that become cancerous. About 25 percent of people with neuroblastoma have a deletion of 1p36.1-1p36.3, which is associated with a more severe form of neuroblastoma. Researchers believe the deleted region could contain a gene that keeps cells from growing and dividing too quickly or in an uncontrolled way, called a tumor suppressor gene. When tumor suppressor genes are deleted, cancer can occur. Researchers have identified several possible tumor suppressor genes in the deleted region of chromosome 1, and more research is needed to understand what role these genes play in neuroblastoma development.
thrombocytopenia-absent radius syndrome
A deletion in the 1q21.1 region of chromosome 1 is involved in most cases of thrombocytopenia-absent radius (TAR) syndrome. TAR syndrome is characterized by the absence of a bone called the radius in each forearm and a shortage (deficiency) of blood cells involved in clotting (platelets).
The deletion in chromosome 1 involved in TAR syndrome eliminates at least 200,000 DNA building blocks (200 kilobases, or 200 kb) from the long (q) arm of the chromosome, including a gene called RBM8A. Most people with TAR syndrome have the deletion in one copy of chromosome 1, which removes one copy of the RBM8A gene, and a mutation in the other copy of the RBM8A gene in each cell. The RBM8A gene provides instructions for making a protein called RNA-binding motif protein 8A. This protein is believed to be involved in a number of important cellular functions involving the production of other proteins.
RBM8A gene mutations that cause TAR syndrome reduce the amount of RNA-binding motif protein 8A in cells. The deletion on chromosome 1 eliminates one copy of the RBM8A gene in each cell and the RNA-binding motif protein 8A that would have been produced from it. The reduced total amount of RNA-binding motif protein 8A is thought to cause problems in the development of certain tissues, but it is unknown how it causes the specific signs and symptoms of TAR syndrome. No cases have been reported in which individuals have deletions on both copies of chromosome 1 that include both copies of the RBM8A gene; studies indicate that the complete loss of RNA-binding motif protein 8A is not compatible with life.
Researchers sometimes refer to the deletion in chromosome 1 associated with TAR syndrome as the 200-kb deletion to distinguish it from another chromosomal abnormality called a 1q21.1 microdeletion. People with a 1q21.1 microdeletion are missing a different, larger DNA segment in the chromosome 1q21.1 region near the area where the 200-kb deletion occurs. The chromosomal change related to 1q21.1 microdeletion is often called the recurrent distal 1.35-Mb deletion.
- other cancers
Changes in the structure of chromosome 1 are associated with other forms of cancer and conditions related to cancer. These changes are typically somatic, which means they are acquired during a person's lifetime and are present only in tumor cells.
Deletions in the short (p) arm of the chromosome have been identified in tumors of the brain and kidney. Duplications in the long (q) arm of the chromosome have been reported in a disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome, which is a disease of the blood and bone marrow. People with this condition have a low number of red blood cells (anemia) and an increased risk of developing leukemia.
- other chromosomal conditions
Other changes in the number or structure of chromosome 1 can have a variety of effects, including delayed growth and development, distinctive facial features, birth defects, and other health problems. Changes to chromosome 1 may include an extra segment of the short (p) or long (q) arm of the chromosome in each cell (partial trisomy 1p or 1q), a missing segment of the short or long arm of the chromosome in each cell (partial monosomy 1p or 1q), or a circular structure called ring chromosome 1. Ring chromosomes occur when a chromosome breaks in two places and the ends of the chromosome arms fuse together to form a circular structure.
Is there a standard way to diagram chromosome 1?
Geneticists use diagrams called ideograms as a standard representation for chromosomes. Ideograms show a chromosome's relative size and its banding pattern. A banding pattern is the characteristic pattern of dark and light bands that appears when a chromosome is stained with a chemical solution and then viewed under a microscope. These bands are used to describe the location of genes on each chromosome.
Where can I find additional information about chromosome 1?
You may find the following resources about chromosome 1 helpful. These materials are written for the general public.
You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for genetics professionals and researchers.
Where can I find general information about chromosomes?
The Handbook provides basic information about genetics in clear language.
These links provide additional genetics resources that may be useful.
What glossary definitions help with understanding chromosome 1?
The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for
professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about
a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified
See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.