Impaired replication progression leads to de novo copy number variant (CNV) formation at common fragile sites (CFSs). We previously showed that these hotspots for genome instability reside in late-replicating domains associated with large transcribed genes and provided indirect evidence that transcription is a factor in their instability. Here, we compared aphidicolin (APH)-induced CNV and CFS frequency between wild-type and isogenic cells in which FHIT gene transcription was ablated by promoter deletion. Two promoter-deletion cell lines showed reduced or absent CNV formation and CFS expression at FHIT despite continued instability at the NLGN1 control locus. APH treatment led to critical replication delays that remained unresolved in G2/M in the body of many, but not all, large transcribed genes, an effect that was reversed at FHIT by the promoter deletion. Altering RNase H1 expression did not change CNV induction frequency and DRIP-seq showed a paucity of R-loop formation in the central regions of large genes, suggesting that R-loops are not the primary mediator of the transcription effect. These results demonstrate that large gene transcription is a determining factor in replication stress-induced genomic instability and support models that CNV hotspots mainly result from the transcription-dependent passage of unreplicated DNA into mitosis.
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.