Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Yuan Liu

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Irina Agoulnik

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Yuk-Ching Tse-Dinh

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Xiaotang Wang

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


neurodegenerative diseases, trinucleotide repeat instability, DNA polymerases, PCNA, FEN1, FAN1, post-translational modification, mono-ubiquitination, trinucleotide repeat expansion, trinucleotide repeat deletion, genomic instability, disease treatment and prevention, small molecule inhibitor

Date of Defense



Trinucleotide repeat (TNR) instability including repeat expansions and repeat deletions is the cause of more than 40 inherited incurable neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. TNR instability is associated with DNA damage and base excision repair (BER). In this dissertation research, we explored the mechanisms of BER-mediated TNR instability via biochemical analysis of the BER protein activities, DNA structures, protein-protein interaction, and protein-DNA interaction by reconstructing BER in vitro using synthesized oligonucleotide TNR substrates and purified human proteins. First, we evaluated a germline DNA polymerase β (pol β) polymorphic variant, pol βR137Q, in leading TNR instability-mediated cancers or neurodegenerative diseases. We find that the pol βR137Q has slightly weaker DNA synthesis activity compared to that of wild-type (WT) pol β. Because of the similar abilities between pol βR137Q and WT pol β in bypassing a template loop structure, both pol βR137Q and WT pol β induces similar amount of repeat deletion. We conclude that the slightly weaker DNA synthesis activity of pol βR137Q does not alter the TNR instability compared to that of WT pol β, suggesting that the pol βR137Q carriers do not have an altered risk in developing TNR instability-mediated human diseases. We then investigated the role of DNA synthesis activities of DNA polymerases in modulating TNR instability. We find that pol βY265C and pol ν with very weak DNA synthesis activities predominantly promote TNR deletions. We identify that the sequences of TNRs may also affect DNA synthesis and alter the outcomes of TNR instability. By inhibiting the DNA synthesis activity of pol β using a pol β inhibitor, we find that the outcome of TNR instability is shifted toward repeat deletions. The results provide the direct evidence that DNA synthesis activity of DNA polymerases can be utilized as a potential therapeutic target for treating TNR expansion diseases. Finally, we explored the role of post-translational modification (PTM) of proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) on TNR instability. We find that ubiquitinated PCNA (ub-PCNA) stimulates Fanconi associated nuclease 1 (FAN1) 5’-3’ exonucleolytic activities directly on hairpin structures, coordinating flap endonuclease 1 (FEN1) in removing difficult secondary structures, thereby suppressing TNR expansions. The results suggest a role of mono-ubiquitination of PCNA in maintaining TNR stability by regulating nucleases switching. Our results suggest enzymatic activities of DNA polymerases and nucleases and the regulation of the activities by PTM play important roles in BER-mediated TNR instability. This research provides the molecular basis for future development of new therapeutic strategies for prevention and treatment of TNR-mediated neurodegenerative diseases.





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