Nearly 50 hereditary diseases result from the inheritance of abnormally long repetitive DNA microsatellites. While it was originally believed that the size of inherited repeats is the key factor in disease development, it has become clear that somatic instability of these repeats throughout an individual's lifetime strongly contributes to disease onset and progression. Importantly, somatic instability is commonly observed in terminally differentiated, postmitotic cells, such as neurons. To unravel the mechanisms of repeat instability in nondividing cells, the investigators created an experimental system to analyze the mutability of Friedreich's ataxia (GAA)n repeats during chronological aging of quiescent Saccharomyces cerevisiae Unexpectedly, the predominant repeat-mediated mutation in nondividing cells was found to be large-scale deletions encompassing parts, or the entirety, of the repeat and adjacent regions. These deletions are caused by breakage at the repeat mediated by mismatch repair (MMR) complexes MutSβ and MutLα and DNA endonuclease Rad1, followed by end-resection by Exo1 and repair of the resulting double-strand breaks (DSBs) via nonhomologous end joining. The authors also observed repeat-mediated gene conversions as a result of DSB repair via ectopic homologous recombination during chronological aging. Repeat expansions accrue during chronological aging as well-particularly in the absence of MMR-induced DSBs. These expansions depend on the processivity of DNA polymerase δ while being counteracted by Exo1 and MutSβ, implicating nick repair. Altogether, these findings show that the mechanisms and types of (GAA)n repeat instability differ dramatically between dividing and nondividing cells, suggesting that distinct repeat-mediated mutations in terminally differentiated somatic cells might influence Friedreich's ataxia pathogenesis.

Read the full article here