Convergent transcription through a long CAG tract destabilizes repeats and induces apoptosis

Mol Cell Biol. 2010 Sep;30(18):4435-51. doi: 10.1128/MCB.00332-10. Epub 2010 Jul 20.


Short repetitive sequences are common in the human genome, and many fall within transcription units. We have previously shown that transcription through CAG repeat tracts destabilizes them in a way that depends on transcription-coupled nucleotide excision repair and mismatch repair. Recent observations that antisense transcription accompanies sense transcription in many human genes led us to test the effects of antisense transcription on triplet repeat instability in human cells. Here, we report that simultaneous sense and antisense transcription (convergent transcription) initiated from two inducible promoters flanking a CAG95 tract in a nonessential gene enhances repeat instability synergistically, arrests the cell cycle, and causes massive cell death via apoptosis. Using chemical inhibitors and small interfering RNA (siRNA) knockdowns, we identified the ATR (ataxia-telangiectasia mutated [ATM] and Rad3 related) signaling pathway as a key mediator of this cellular response. RNA polymerase II, replication protein A (RPA), and components of the ATR signaling pathway accumulate at convergently transcribed repeat tracts, accompanied by phosphorylation of ATR, CHK1, and p53. Cell death depends on simultaneous sense and antisense transcription and is proportional to their relative levels, it requires the presence of the repeat tract, and it occurs in both proliferating and nonproliferating cells. Convergent transcription through a CAG repeat represents a novel mechanism for triggering a cellular stress response, one that is initiated by events at a single locus in the genome and resembles the response to DNA damage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antisense Elements (Genetics)
  • Apoptosis / genetics*
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Checkpoint Kinase 1
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Protein Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • RNA Polymerase II / genetics
  • RNA Polymerase II / metabolism
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Transcription, Genetic*
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / metabolism


  • Antisense Elements (Genetics)
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • Protein Kinases
  • ATM protein, human
  • ATR protein, human
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • CHEK1 protein, human
  • Checkpoint Kinase 1
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • RNA Polymerase II
  • Caspases