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J Mol Biol. 1999 May 28;289(1):21-7.

Expansion of DNA repeats in Escherichia coli: effects of recombination and replication functions.

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  • 1Department of Biology and Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, 02454-9110, USA.


Duplication or expansion of directly repeated sequence elements is associated with a number of human genetic diseases. To study the mechanisms of repeat expansion, we have developed a plasmid assay in Escherichia coli. Our assay involves two simple repeats of 787 bp in length; expansion to three or more copies of the repeat can be selected by restoration of an intact tetracycline-resistance gene. Expansions occurred at relatively high rates, >10(-5), in the population. Both RecA-dependent recombination and RecA-independent slipped misalignments contributed to the observed expansion events. Mutations that impair DNA polymerase III (DnaE, DnaQ subunits) or the replication fork helicase, DnaB, stimulated both RecA-dependent and RecA-independent expansion events. In these respects, the properties of repeat expansion resemble repeat deletion and suggest that difficulties in DNA replication may trigger both classes of rearrangements. About 20% of the RecA-independent expansion events are accompanied by reciprocal sister-chromosome exchange, producing dimeric plasmids carrying one triplicated and one deleted locus. These products are explained by a model involving misaligned strands across the replication fork. This model predicts that the location of a replication stall site may govern the types of resulting rearrangements. The specific location of such a stall site can also, in theory, account for propensity towards expansion or deletion of repeat arrays. This may have relevance to trinucleotide repeat expansion in human genetic disease.

Copyright 1999 Academic Press.

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