Effect of helicases on the instability of CTG・CAG trinucleotide repeat arrays in the escherichia coli chromosome
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A trinucleotide repeat (TNR) is a 3 base pair (bp) DNA sequence tandemly repeated in an array. In humans, TNR sequences have been found to be associated with at least 14 severe neurological diseases including Huntington disease, myotonic dystrophy and several of the spinocerebellar ataxias. Such diseases are caused by an expansion of the repeat sequence beyond a threshold length and are characterized by non-Mendelian patterns of inheritance which lead to genetic anticipation. Although the mechanism of the genetic instability in these arrays is not yet fully understood, various models have been suggested based on the in vitro observation that TNR sequences can form secondary structures such as pseudo-hairpins. In order to investigate the mechanisms responsible for instability of TNR sequences, a study was carried out on Escherichia coli cells in which TNR arrays had been integrated into the chromosomal lacZ gene. This genetic assay was used to identify proteins and pathways involved in deletion and/or expansion instability. Deletion instability was clearly dependent on orientation of the TNR sequence relative to the origin of replication. Interestingly, it was found that expansion instability is not dependent on the orientation of the repeat array relative to the origin of replication. The replication fork reversal pathway and the RecFOR mediated gap repair pathway were found to have no statistically significant influence on the instability of TNR arrays. However, the protein UvrD was found to affect the deletion instability of TNR sequences. The roles of key helicase genes were investigated for their effects on instability of chromosomal CTG•CAG repeats. Mutation of the rep gene increased deletion in the CTG leading-strand orientation of the repeat array, and expansion in both orientations - destabilizing the TNR array. RecQ helicase was found to have a significant effect on TNR instability in the orientation in which CAG repeats were present on the leading-strand relative to the origin of replication. Mutation of the recQ gene severely limited the number of expansion events in this orientation, whilst having no effect on deletions. This dependence of expansions on RecQ was lost in a rep mutant strain. In a rep mutant expansions were shown to be partially dependent on the DinG helicase. All together, these results suggest a model of TNR instability in which expansions are due to events occurring at either the leading or lagging strand of an arrested replication fork, facilitated by helicase action. The identity of the helicase implicated is determined by the nature of the arrest.