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Cancer Lett. 2006 Jan 28;232(1):4-12. Epub 2005 Oct 17.

Common fragile sites.

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  • Department of Human Genetics, 4909 Buhl, Box 0618, 1241 E. Catherine Street, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0618, USA. glover@umich.edu


Common fragile sites are regions showing site-specific gaps and breaks on metaphase chromosomes after partial inhibition of DNA synthesis. Common fragile sites are normally stable in somatic cells. However, following treatment of cultured cells with replication inhibitors, fragile sites display gaps, breaks, rearrangements and other features of unstable DNA. Studies showing that fragile sites and associated genes are frequently deleted or rearranged in many cancer cells have clearly demonstrated their importance in genome instability in cancer. Until recently, little was known about the molecular nature and mechanisms involved in fragile site instability. From studies conducted in many laboratories, it is now known that fragile sites extend over large regions, are associated with genes, exhibit delayed replication, and contain regions of high DNA flexibility. Recent findings from our laboratory showing that the key cell cycle checkpoint genes are important for genome stability at fragile sties have shed new light on these mechanisms and on the significance of these sites in cancer and normal chromosome structure. Since their discovery over two decades ago, much has been learned regarding their significance in chromosome structure and instability in cancer, but a number of key questions remain, including why these sites are 'fragile' and the impact of this instability on associated genes in cancer cells. These and other questions have been addressed by participants of this meeting, which highlighted instability at common fragile sites. This brief review is intended to provide background on common fragile sites that has led up to many of the studies presented in the accompanying reports in this volume and not to summarize the findings presented therein. Some aspects of this review were taken from Glover et al. (T.W. Glover, M.F. Arlt, A.M. Casper, S.G. Durkin, Mechanisms of common fragile site instability, Hum. Molec. Genet. 14 (in press). [1]).

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