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Genetics. 1991 May;128(1):23-7.

Spontaneous mutation at a 5-methylcytosine hotspot is prevented by very short patch (VSP) mismatch repair.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, University of Southern California School of Medicine, Los Angeles 90033.


In many strains of Escherichia coli, the product of gene dcm methylates the internal cytosines in the sequence 5'CC(A or T)GG. Spontaneous deamination of 5-methylcytosine produces thymine which, if not corrected, can result in a transition mutation. 5-Methylcytosines in the lacI gene are hotspots for spontaneous C to T mutations. dcm is linked to vsr, a gene required for very short patch (VSP) repair. VSP repair corrects T.G mispairs in the following contexts:CTAAGGGGTCC, CTTGGGGACC, TAGGGTCC and CTAGGGTC. I have investigated the relationships between cytosine methylation, mutation, and VSP repair. Spontaneous mutations in the repressor (cI) gene of lambda prophage were isolated in wild-type and mutant lysogens. A hotspot for spontaneous mutation that corresponds with a 5-methylcytosine was observed in wild-type lysogens but was not present in bacteria lacking both methylase and VSP repair activity. Introduction of a plasmid containing dcm+ and vsr+ restored the mutation hotspot. If the added plasmid carried only dcm+, the frequency of spontaneous mutations at the 5-methylcytosine was over 10-fold higher than in Dcm+Vsr+ lysogens. The addition of vsr on a plasmid to a wild-type lysogen resulted in a 4-fold reduction in mutation at the hotspot. These findings support the previously untested hypothesis that VSP repair prevents mutations resulting from deamination of 5-methylcytosine.

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