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Nucleic Acids Res. 1998 Feb 1;26(3):816-23.

Structural analysis of slipped-strand DNA (S-DNA) formed in (CTG)n. (CAG)n repeats from the myotonic dystrophy locus.

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  • 1Center for Genome Research, Institute of Biosciences and Technology, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Texas A&M University, Houston, TX 77030-3303, USA.


The mechanism of disease-associated trinucleotide repeat length variation may involve slippage of the triplet-containing strand at the replication fork, generating a slipped-strand DNA structure. We recently reported formation in vitro of slipped-strand DNA (S-DNA) structures when DNAs containing triplet repeat blocks of myotonic dystrophy or fragile X diseases were melted and allowed to reanneal to form duplexes. Here additional evidence is presented that is consistent with the existence of S-DNA structures. We demonstrate that S-DNA structures can form between two complementary strands containing equal numbers of repeats. In addition, we show that both the propensity for S-DNA formation and the structural complexity of S-DNAs formed increase with increasing repeat length. S-DNA structures were also analyzed by electron microscopy, confirming that the two strands are slipped out of register with respect to each other and confirming the structural polymorphism expected within long tracts of trinucleotide repeats. For (CTG)50.(CAG)50 two distinct populations of slipped structures have been identified: those involving </=10 repeats per slippage, which appear as bent/kinked DNA molecules, and those involving >10 repeats, which have multiple loops or hairpins indicative of complex alternative DNA secondary structures.

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