Microsatellites are ubiquitously present in eukaryotic genomes and are implicated as positive factors in evolution. At the nucleotide level, microsatellites undergo slippage events that alter allele length and base changes that interrupt the repetitive tract. We examined DNA polymerase errors within a [T]11 microsatellite using an in vitro assay that preferentially detects mutations other than unit changes. We observed that human DNA polymerase kappa (Pol κ) inserts dGMP and dCMP within the [T]11 mononucleotide repeat, producing an interrupted 12-bp allele. Polymerase β produced such interruptions at a lower frequency. These data demonstrate that DNA polymerases are capable of directly producing base interruptions within microsatellites. At the molecular level, expanded microsatellites have been implicated in DNA replication fork stalling. Using an in vitro primer extension assay, we observed sequence-specific synthesis termination by DNA polymerases within mononucleotides. Quantitatively, intense, polar pausing was observed for both pol κ and polymerase α-primase within a [T]11 allele. A mechanism is proposed in which pausing results from DNA bending within the duplex stem of the nascent DNA. Our data support the concept of a microsatellite life-cycle, and are consistent with the models in which DNA sequence or secondary structures contributes to non-uniform rates of replication fork progression.
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