Properly organizing DNA within the nucleus is critical to ensure normal downstream nuclear functions. CTCF and cohesin act as major architectural proteins, working in concert to generate thousands of high-intensity chromatin loops. Due to their central role in loop formation, a massive research effort has been dedicated to investigating the mechanism by which CTCF and cohesin create these loops. Recent results lead to questioning the direct impact of CTCF loops on gene expression. Additionally, results of controlled depletion experiments in cell lines has indicated that genome architecture may be somewhat resistant to incomplete deficiencies in CTCF or cohesin. However, heterozygous human genetic deficiencies in CTCF and cohesin have illustrated the importance of their dosage in genome architecture, cellular processes, animal behavior, and disease phenotypes. Thus, the importance of considering CTCF or cohesin levels is especially made clear by these heterozygous germline variants that characterize genetic syndromes, which are increasingly recognized in clinical practice. Defined primarily by developmental delay and intellectual disability, the phenotypes of CTCF and cohesin deficiency illustrate the importance of architectural proteins particularly in neurodevelopment. We discuss the distinct roles of CTCF and cohesin in forming chromatin loops, highlight the major role that dosage of each protein plays in the amplitude of observed effects on gene expression, and contrast these results to heterozygous mutation phenotypes in murine models and clinical patients. Insights highlighted by this comparison have implications for future research into these newly emerging genetic syndromes.
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