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J Biol Chem. 2013 Apr 19;288(16):11581-9. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M113.454744. Epub 2013 Mar 1.

Self-catalytic DNA depurination underlies human β-globin gene mutations at codon 6 that cause anemias and thalassemias.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA.


The human β-globin gene contains an 18-nucleotide coding strand sequence centered at codon 6 and capable of forming a stem-loop structure that can self-catalyze depurination of the 5'G residue of that codon. The resultant apurinic lesion is subject to error-prone repair, consistent with the occurrence about this codon of mutations responsible for 6 anemias and β-thalassemias and additional substitutions without clinical consequences. The 4-residue loop of this stem-loop-forming sequence shows the highest incidence of mutation across the gene. The loop and first stem base pair-forming residues appeared early in the mammalian clade. The other stem-forming segments evolved more recently among primates, thereby conferring self-depurination capacity at codon 6. These observations indicate a conserved molecular mechanism leading to β-globin variants underlying phenotypic diversity and disease.

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