Trinucleotide repeat expansions are dynamic mutations causing many neurological disorders, and their instability is influenced by multiple factors. Repeat configuration seems particularly important, and pure repeats are thought to be more unstable than interrupted repeats. But direct evidence is still lacking. Here, we presented strong support for this hypothesis from our studies on spinocerebellar ataxia type 17 (SCA17). SCA17 is a typical polyglutamine disease caused by CAG repeat expansion in TBP (TATA binding protein), and is unique in that the pure expanded polyglutamine tract is coded by either a simple configuration with long stretches of pure CAGs or a complex configuration containing CAA interruptions. By small pool PCR (SP-PCR) analysis of blood DNA from SCA17 patients of distinct racial backgrounds, we quantitatively assessed the instability of these two types of expanded alleles coding similar length of polyglutamine expansion. Mutation frequency in patients harboring pure CAG repeats is 2-3 folds of those with CAA interruptions. Interestingly, the pure CAG repeats showed both expansion and deletion while the interrupted repeats exhibited mostly deletion at a significantly lower frequency. These data strongly suggest that repeat configuration is a critical determinant for instability, and CAA interruptions might serve as a limiting element for further expansion of CAG repeats in SCA17 locus, suggesting a molecular basis for lack of anticipation in SCA17 families with interrupted CAG expansion.
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