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Expansion of GAA·TTC repeats within the first intron of the frataxin gene is the cause of Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA), an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder. However, no effective treatment for the disease has been developed as yet. In this study, we explored a possibility of shortening expanded GAA repeats associated with FRDA through chemotherapeutically-induced DNA base lesions and subsequent base excision repair (BER). We provide the first evidence that alkylated DNA damage induced by temozolomide, a chemotherapeutic DNA damaging agent can induce massive GAA repeat contractions/deletions, but only limited expansions in FRDA patient lymphoblasts. We showed that temozolomide-induced GAA repeat instability was mediated by BER. Further characterization of BER of an abasic site in the context of (GAA)20 repeats indicates that the lesion mainly resulted in a large deletion of 8 repeats along with small expansions. This was because temozolomide-induced single-stranded breaks initially led to DNA slippage and the formation of a small GAA repeat loop in the upstream region of the damaged strand and a small TTC loop on the template strand. This allowed limited pol β DNA synthesis and the formation of a short 5'-GAA repeat flap that was cleaved by FEN1, thereby leading to small repeat expansions. At a later stage of BER, the small template loop expanded into a large template loop that resulted in the formation of a long 5'-GAA repeat flap. Pol β then performed limited DNA synthesis to bypass the loop, and FEN1 removed the long repeat flap ultimately causing a large repeat deletion. Our study indicates that chemotherapeutically-induced alkylated DNA damage can induce large contractions/deletions of expanded GAA repeats through BER in FRDA patient cells. This further suggests the potential of developing chemotherapeutic alkylating agents to shorten expanded GAA repeats for treatment of FRDA.


© 2014 Lai et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.