Repetitive DNA loci and their modulation by the non-canonical nucleic acid structures R-loops and G-quadruplexes

Nucleus. 2017 Mar 4;8(2):162-181. doi: 10.1080/19491034.2017.1292193.


Cells have evolved intricate mechanisms to maintain genome stability despite allowing mutational changes to drive evolutionary adaptation. Repetitive DNA sequences, which represent the bulk of most genomes, are a major threat to genome stability often driving chromosome rearrangements and disease. The major source of repetitive DNA sequences and thus the most vulnerable constituents of the genome are the rDNA (rDNA) repeats, telomeres, and transposable elements. Maintaining the stability of these loci is critical to overall cellular fitness and lifespan. Therefore, cells have evolved mechanisms to regulate rDNA copy number, telomere length and transposon activity, as well as DNA repair at these loci. In addition, non-canonical structure-forming DNA motifs can also modulate the function of these repetitive DNA loci by impacting their transcription, replication, and stability. Here, we discuss key mechanisms that maintain rDNA repeats, telomeres, and transposons in yeast and human before highlighting emerging roles for non-canonical DNA structures at these repetitive loci.

Keywords: genome stability; rDNA (rDNA); repetitive DNA; retrotransposons; telomeres.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA / chemistry*
  • DNA / genetics*
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics
  • G-Quadruplexes*
  • Genetic Loci / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid*
  • Telomere / genetics


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • DNA