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J Mol Biol. 2002 May 17;318(5):1221-35.

Structure-function analysis of the inverted terminal repeats of the sleeping beauty transposon.

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Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, People's Republic of China.


Translocation of Sleeping Beauty (SB) transposon requires specific binding of SB transposase to inverted terminal repeats (ITRs) of about 230 bp at each end of the transposon, which is followed by a cut-and-paste transfer of the transposon into a target DNA sequence. The ITRs contain two imperfect direct repeats (DRs) of about 32 bp. The outer DRs are at the extreme ends of the transposon whereas the inner DRs are located inside the transposon, 165-166 bp from the outer DRs. Here we investigated the roles of the DR elements in transposition. Although there is a core transposase-binding sequence common to all of the DRs, additional adjacent sequences are required for transposition and these sequences vary in the different DRs. As a result, SB transposase binds less tightly to the outer DRs than to the inner DRs. Two DRs are required in each ITR for transposition but they are not interchangeable for efficient transposition. Each DR appears to have a distinctive role in transposition. The spacing and sequence between the DR elements in an ITR affect transposition rates, suggesting a constrained geometry is involved in the interactions of SB transposase molecules in order to achieve precise mobilization. Transposons are flanked by TA dinucleotide base-pairs that are important for excision; elimination of the TA motif on one side of the transposon significantly reduces transposition while loss of TAs on both flanks of the transposon abolishes transposition. These findings have led to the construction of a more advanced transposon that should be useful in gene transfer and insertional mutagenesis in vertebrates.

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