Molecular analysis of a deletion polymorphism in alpha satellite of human chromosome 17: evidence for homologous unequal crossing-over and subsequent fixation
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The human alpha satellite DNA family is organized into chromosome-specific subsets characterized by distinct higher-order repeats based on a approximately 171 basepair monomer unit. On human chromosome 17, the predominant form of alpha satellite is a 16-monomer (16-mer) higher-order repeat present in 500-1000 copies per chromosome 17. In addition, less abundant 15-monomer and 14-monomer repeats are also found constitutively on chromosome 17. Polymorphisms in the form of different higher-order repeat lengths have been described for this subset, the most prominent polymorphism being a 13-monomer (13-mer) higher-order repeat present on approximately 35% of all chromosomes 17. To investigate the nature of this polymorphism, we have cloned, sequenced and compared the relevant regions of the 13-mer to the previously characterized 16-mer repeat. The results show that the repeats are virtually identical, with the principal difference being the exclusion of three monomers from the 13-mer repeat. We propose that the 13-mer is the product of an isolated homologous recombination event between two monomers of the 16-mer repeat. Sequence comparisons reveal the approximate site of recombination and flanking regions of homology. This recombination site corresponds to a position within the alphoid monomer which has been previously implicated in an independent homologous recombination event, suggesting that there may exist a preferred register for recombination in alphoid DNA. We suggest that these events are representative of an ongoing process capable of reorganizing the satellite subset of a given chromosome, thereby contributing to the establishment of chromosome-specific alpha satellite subsets.
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