RTEL1 Inhibits Trinucleotide Repeat Expansions and Fragility

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Frizzell, Aisling ; Nguyen, Jennifer H. G. ; Petalcorin, Mark I. R. ; Turner, Katherine D. ; Boulton, Simon J. ; Freudenreich, Catherine H. ; Lahue, Robert S. (2014)

SUMMARY Human RTEL1 is an essential, multifunctional helicase that maintains telomeres, regulates homologous recombination, and helps prevent bone marrow failure. Here, we show that RTEL1 also blocks trinucleotide repeat expansions, the causal mutation for 17 neurological diseases. Increased expansion frequencies of (CTG·CAG) repeats occurred in human cells following knockdown of RTEL1, but not the alternative helicase Fbh1, and purified RTEL1 efficiently unwound triplet repeat hairpins in vitro. The expansion-blocking activity of RTEL1 also required Rad18 and HLTF, homologs of yeast Rad18 and Rad5. These findings are reminiscent of budding yeast Srs2, which inhibits expansions, unwinds hairpins, and prevents triplet-repeat-induced chromosome fragility. Accordingly, we found expansions and fragility were suppressed in yeast srs2 mutants expressing RTEL1, but not Fbh1. We propose that RTEL1 serves as a human analog of Srs2 to inhibit (CTG·CAG) repeat expansions and fragility, likely by unwinding problematic hairpins.
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