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Mutagenesis. 2001 Jan;16(1):85-9.

Termini of human chromosomes display elevated rates of mitotic recombination.

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  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology, 344 Gail Borden Building, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX 77555-0656, USA.


The strand-specific in situ hybridization technique of CO-FISH was used to probe telomeres of human mitotic cells in order to determine the spontaneous frequency of crossover. This approach allowed the detection of recombinational crossovers occurring anywhere along the length of individual chromosomes, including reciprocal events taking place between sister chromatids. Although the process of sister chromatid exchange (SCE) is the most prominent type of recombination in somatic mammalian cells, our results show that SCEs accounted for less than a third of the recombinational events revealed by CO-FISH. It is concluded that chromosomal regions near the termini of chromosome arms undergo extraordinarily high rates of spontaneous recombination, producing terminal crossovers whose small size precludes detection by standard cytogenetic methods. That similar results were observed for transformed epithelial cells, as well as primary fibroblasts, suggests that the phenomenon is a common characteristic of human cells. These findings are noteworthy because, although telomeric and subtelomeric DNA is known to be preferentially involved in certain types of recombination, the tips of somatic mammalian chromosomes have not previously been identified as preferred sites for crossover. Implications of these results are discussed in terms of limitations imposed on CO-FISH for its proposed use in directional hybridization mapping.

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