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J Mol Biol. 2000 Jun 16;299(4):865-74.

Length of CTG.CAG repeats determines the influence of mismatch repair on genetic instability.

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Molecular Biology Sector School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK.


We showed previously that mutations in methyl-directed mismatch repair of Escherichia coli reduced the occurrence of large deletions in (CTG.CAG)(175) repeats contained on plasmids. By contrast, other workers reported that mutations in mismatch repair increase the frequency of small-length changes in the shorter (CTG.CAG)(64). Using plasmids with a variety of lengths and purity of (CTG.CAG) repeats, we have resolved these apparently conflicting observations. We show that all lengths of (CTG.CAG) repeats are subject to small-length changes (<eight repeats) upon inactivation of the mismatch repair pathway. However, large deletions (>eight repeats) in (CTG.CAG)(n) occur more readily in cells with active mismatch repair. The frequency of large deletions is proportional to the tract length; in our assays they become prominent in tracts greater than 100 repeats. Interruptions in repeat purity enhance the occurrence of large deletions. In addition, we observed a high level of incidence of deletions in (CTG.CAG) repeats for cultures passing repeatedly through stationary phase during long-term growth experiments of all strains (i.e. with active or inactive mismatch repair). These results agree with current theories on mismatch repair acting on DNA slippage events that occur in DNA triplet-repeats.

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