The role of fork stalling and DNA structures in causing chromosome fragility

Genes Chromosomes Cancer. 2019 May;58(5):270-283. doi: 10.1002/gcc.22721. Epub 2019 Jan 29.


Alternative non-B form DNA structures, also called secondary structures, can form in certain DNA sequences under conditions that produce single-stranded DNA, such as during replication, transcription, and repair. Direct links between secondary structure formation, replication fork stalling, and genomic instability have been found for many repeated DNA sequences that cause disease when they expand. Common fragile sites (CFSs) are known to be AT-rich and break under replication stress, yet the molecular basis for their fragility is still being investigated. Over the past several years, new evidence has linked both the formation of secondary structures and transcription to fork stalling and fragility of CFSs. How these two events may synergize to cause fragility and the role of nuclease cleavage at secondary structures in rare and CFSs are discussed here. We also highlight evidence for a new hypothesis that secondary structures at CFSs not only initiate fragility but also inhibit healing, resulting in their characteristic appearance.

Keywords: DNA secondary structures; common fragile sites; fork stalling; nuclease cleavage; rare fragile sites.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromosome Fragile Sites*
  • Chromosome Fragility*
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / genetics*
  • DNA Replication*
  • Humans


  • DNA