Gene deletions causing human genetic disease: mechanisms of mutagenesis and the role of the local DNA sequence environment

Hum Genet. 1991 Mar;86(5):425-41. doi: 10.1007/BF00194629.


Reports describing short (less than 20 bp) gene deletions causing human genetic disease were collated in order to study underlying causative mechanisms. Deletion breakpoint junction regions were found to be non-random both at the nucleotide and dinucleotide sequence levels, an observation consistent with an endogenous sequence-directed mechanism of mutagenesis. Direct repeats of between 2bp and 8bp were found in the immediate vicinity of all but one of the 60 deletions analysed. Direct repeats are a feature of a number of recombination, replication or repair-based models of deletion mutagenesis and the possible contribution of each to the spectrum of mutations examined was assessed. The influence of parameters such as repeat length and length of DNA between repeats was studied in relation to the frequency, location and extent of these deletions. Findings were broadly consistent with a slipped mispairing model but the predicted deletion of one whole repeat copy was found only rarely. A modified version of the slipped mispairing hypothesis was therefore proposed and was shown to possess considerable explanatory value for approximately 25% of deletions examined. Whereas the frequency of inverted repeats in the vicinity of gene deletions was not significantly elevated, these elements may nevertheless promote instability by facilitating the formation of secondary structure intermediates. A significant excess of symmetrical sequence elements was however found at sites of single base deletions. A new model to explain the involvement of symmetric elements in frameshift mutagenesis was devised, which successfully accounted for a majority of the single base deletions examined. In general, the loss of one or a few base pairs of DNA was found to be more compatible with a replication-based model of mutagenesis than with a recombination or repair hypothesis. Seven hitherto unrecognized hotspots for deletion were noted in five genes (AT3, F8, HBA, HBB and HPRT). Considerable sequence homology was found between these different sites, and a consensus sequence (TGA/GA/GG/TA/C) was drawn up. Sequences fitting this consensus (i) were noted in the immediate vicinity of 41% of the other (sporadic) gene deletions, (ii) were found frequently at sites of spontaneous deletion in the hamster APRT gene, (iii) were found to be associated with many larger human gene deletions/translocations, (iv) act as arrest sites for human polymerase alpha during DNA replication and (v) have been shown by in vitro studies of human polymerase alpha to be especially prone to frameshift mutation.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Base Composition
  • Base Sequence
  • Chromosome Deletion*
  • DNA / genetics*
  • DNA Repair
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / metabolism
  • Frameshift Mutation
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis / genetics*
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid


  • DNA
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase