Hydroxyurea induces de novo copy number variants in human cells

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Oct 18;108(42):17360-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1109272108. Epub 2011 Oct 10.


Copy number variants (CNVs) are widely distributed throughout the human genome, where they contribute to genetic variation and phenotypic diversity. Spontaneous CNVs are also a major cause of genetic and developmental disorders and arise frequently in cancer cells. As with all mutation classes, genetic and environmental factors almost certainly increase the risk for new and deleterious CNVs. However, despite the importance of CNVs, there is limited understanding of these precipitating risk factors and the mechanisms responsible for a large percentage of CNVs. Here we report that low doses of hydroxyurea, an inhibitor of ribonucleotide reductase and an important drug in the treatment of sickle cell disease and other diseases induces a high frequency of de novo CNVs in cultured human cells that resemble pathogenic and aphidicolin-induced CNVs in size and breakpoint structure. These CNVs are distributed throughout the genome, with some hotspots of de novo CNV formation. Sequencing revealed that CNV breakpoint junctions are characterized by short microhomologies, blunt ends, and short insertions. These data provide direct experimental support for models of replication-error origins of CNVs and suggest that any agent or condition that leads to replication stress has the potential to induce deleterious CNVs. In addition, they point to a need for further study of the genomic consequences of the therapeutic use of hydroxyurea.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antisickling Agents / pharmacology
  • Aphidicolin / pharmacology
  • Base Sequence
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 3 / drug effects
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 3 / genetics
  • DNA Breaks / drug effects
  • DNA Copy Number Variations / drug effects*
  • DNA Copy Number Variations / genetics
  • DNA Replication / drug effects
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyurea / administration & dosage
  • Hydroxyurea / adverse effects
  • Hydroxyurea / pharmacology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases / antagonists & inhibitors


  • Antisickling Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Aphidicolin
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases
  • Hydroxyurea