Elucidating the sources of genetic variation within microsatellite alleles has important implications for understanding the etiology of human diseases. Mismatch repair is a well described pathway for the suppression of microsatellite instability. However, the cellular polymerases responsible for generating microsatellite errors have not been fully described. We address this gap in knowledge by measuring the fidelity of recombinant yeast polymerase δ (Pol δ) and ɛ (Pol ɛ) holoenzymes during synthesis of a [GT/CA] microsatellite. The in vitro HSV-tk forward assay was used to measure DNA polymerase errors generated during gap-filling of complementary GT(10) and CA(10)-containing substrates and ∼90 nucleotides of HSV-tk coding sequence surrounding the microsatellites. The observed mutant frequencies within the microsatellites were 4 to 30-fold higher than the observed mutant frequencies within the coding sequence. More specifically, the rate of Pol δ and Pol ɛ misalignment-based insertion/deletion errors within the microsatellites was ∼1000-fold higher than the rate of insertion/deletion errors within the HSV-tk gene. Although the most common microsatellite error was the deletion of a single repeat unit, ∼ 20% of errors were deletions of two or more units for both polymerases. The differences in fidelity for wild type enzymes and their exonuclease-deficient derivatives were ∼2-fold for unit-based microsatellite insertion/deletion errors. Interestingly, the exonucleases preferentially removed potentially stabilizing interruption errors within the microsatellites. Since Pol δ and Pol ɛ perform not only the bulk of DNA replication in eukaryotic cells but also are implicated in performing DNA synthesis associated with repair and recombination, these results indicate that microsatellite errors may be introduced into the genome during multiple DNA metabolic pathways.
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