Expansion of CAG repeats in Escherichia coli is controlled by single-strand DNA exonucleases of both polarities

Adam Jackson, Ewa A. Okely, David R F Leach*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The expansion of CAG·CTG repeat tracts is responsible for several neurodegenerative diseases, including Huntington disease and myotonic dystrophy. Understanding the molecular mechanism of CAG·CTG repeat tract expansion is therefore important if we are to develop medical interventions limiting expansion rates. Escherichia coli provides a simple and tractable model system to understand the fundamental properties of these DNA sequences, with the potential to suggest pathways that might be conserved in humans or to highlight differences in behavior that could signal the existence of human-specific factors affecting repeat array processing. We have addressed the genetics of CAG·CTG repeat expansion in E. coli and shown that these repeat arrays expand via an orientation-independent mechanism that contrasts with the orientation dependence of CAG_CTG repeat tract contraction. The helicase Rep contributes to the orientation dependence of repeat tract contraction and limits repeat tract expansion in both orientations. However, RuvAB-dependent fork reversal, which occurs in a rep mutant, is not responsible for the observed increase in expansions. The frequency of repeat tract expansion is controlled by both the 5ʹ–3ʹ exonuclease RecJ and the 3ʹ–5ʹ exonuclease Exol, observations that suggest the importance of both 3ʹ and 5ʹ single-strand ends in the pathway of CAG·CTG repeat tract expansion. We discuss the relevance of our results to two competing models of repeat tract expansion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-517
Number of pages9
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


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