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Nucleic Acids Res. 2008 Feb;36(3):1050-6. Epub 2007 Dec 26.

ATR protects the genome against CGG.CCG-repeat expansion in Fragile X premutation mice.

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  • 1Section on Gene Structure and Disease, Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Biology, National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-0830, USA.


Fragile X mental retardation syndrome is a repeat expansion disease caused by expansion of a CGG.CCG-repeat tract in the 5' UTR of the FMR1 gene. In humans, small expansions occur more frequently on paternal transmission while large expansions are exclusively maternal in origin. It has been suggested that expansion is the result of aberrant DNA replication, repair or recombination. To distinguish amongst these possibilities we crossed mice containing 120 CGG.CCG-repeats in the 5' UTR of the mouse Fmr1 gene to mice with mutations in ATR, a protein important in the cellular response to stalled replication forks and bulky DNA lesions. We show here that ATR heterozygosity results in increased expansion rates of maternally, but not paternally, transmitted alleles. In addition, age-related somatic expansions occurred in mice of both genders that were not seen in ATR wild-type animals. Some ATR-sensitive expansion occurs in postmitotic cells including haploid gametes suggesting that aberrant DNA repair is responsible. Our data suggest that two mechanisms of repeat expansion exist that may explain the small and large expansions seen in humans. In addition, our data provide an explanation for the maternal bias of large expansions in humans and the lower incidence of these expansions in mice.

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