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Mol Cell Biol. 2003 Oct;23(20):7143-51.

Molecular basis for expression of common and rare fragile sites.

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Department of Genetics, The Life Sciences Institute, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel 91904.


Fragile sites are specific loci that form gaps, constrictions, and breaks on chromosomes exposed to partial replication stress and are rearranged in tumors. Fragile sites are classified as rare or common, depending on their induction and frequency within the population. The molecular basis of rare fragile sites is associated with expanded repeats capable of adopting unusual non-B DNA structures that can perturb DNA replication. The molecular basis of common fragile sites was unknown. Fragile sites from R-bands are enriched in flexible sequences relative to nonfragile regions from the same chromosomal bands. Here we cloned FRA7E, a common fragile site mapped to a G-band, and revealed a significant difference between its flexibility and that of nonfragile regions mapped to G-bands, similar to the pattern found in R-bands. Thus, in the entire genome, flexible sequences might play a role in the mechanism of fragility. The flexible sequences are composed of interrupted runs of AT-dinucleotides, which have the potential to form secondary structures and hence can affect replication. These sequences show similarity to the AT-rich minisatellite repeats that underlie the fragility of the rare fragile sites FRA16B and FRA10B. We further demonstrate that the normal alleles of FRA16B and FRA10B span the same genomic regions as the common fragile sites FRA16C and FRA10E. Our results suggest that a shared molecular basis, conferred by sequences with a potential to form secondary structures that can perturb replication, may underlie the fragility of rare fragile sites harboring AT-rich minisatellite repeats and aphidicolin-induced common fragile sites.

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