Common fragile sites (CFS) are chromosomal regions that exhibit instability during DNA replication stress. Although the mechanism of CFS expression has not been fully elucidated, one known feature is a severely delayed S-phase. We used an in vitro primer extension assay to examine the progression of DNA synthesis through various sequences within FRA16D by the replicative human DNA polymerases δ and α, and with human cell-free extracts. We found that specific cis-acting sequence elements perturb DNA elongation, causing inconsistent DNA synthesis rates between regions on the same strand and complementary strands. Pol δ was significantly inhibited in regions containing hairpins and microsatellites, [AT/TA]24 and [A/T]19-28, compared with a control region with minimal secondary structure. Pol δ processivity was enhanced by full length Werner Syndrome protein (WRN) and by WRN fragments containing either the helicase domain or DNA-binding C-terminal domain. In cell-free extracts, stalling was eliminated at smaller hairpins, but persisted in larger hairpins and microsatellites. Our data support a model whereby CFS expression during cellular stress is due to a combination of factors-density of specific DNA secondary-structures within a genomic region and asymmetric rates of strand synthesis.
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