Current Genetics

, Volume 64, Issue 4, pp 789–794 | Cite as

R-loops: targets for nuclease cleavage and repeat instability

  • Catherine H. FreudenreichEmail author


R-loops form when transcribed RNA remains bound to its DNA template to form a stable RNA:DNA hybrid. Stable R-loops form when the RNA is purine-rich, and are further stabilized by DNA secondary structures on the non-template strand. Interestingly, many expandable and disease-causing repeat sequences form stable R-loops, and R-loops can contribute to repeat instability. Repeat expansions are responsible for multiple neurodegenerative diseases, including Huntington’s disease, myotonic dystrophy, and several types of ataxias. Recently, it was found that R-loops at an expanded CAG/CTG repeat tract cause DNA breaks as well as repeat instability (Su and Freudenreich, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 114, E8392–E8401, 2017). Two factors were identified as causing R-loop-dependent breaks at CAG/CTG tracts: deamination of cytosines and the MutLγ (Mlh1–Mlh3) endonuclease, defining two new mechanisms for how R-loops can generate DNA breaks (Su and Freudenreich, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 114, E8392–E8401, 2017). Following R-loop-dependent nicking, base excision repair resulted in repeat instability. These results have implications for human repeat expansion diseases and provide a paradigm for how RNA:DNA hybrids can cause genome instability at structure-forming DNA sequences. This perspective summarizes mechanisms of R-loop-induced fragility at G-rich repeats and new links between DNA breaks and repeat instability.


R-loop Trinucleotide repeat instability Chromosome fragility Cytosine deamination Base excision repair (BER) MutLγ (Mlh1–Mlh3) 



Thanks to Xiaofeng Allen Su for help with the figure. The author’s research is supported by the National Science Foundation (MCB1330743) and the National Institute of Health (GM122880 and GM105473).


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA
  2. 2.Program in GeneticsTufts UniversityBostonUSA

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