Triplet repeat expansion is the molecular basis for several human diseases. Intensive studies using systems in bacteria, yeast, flies, mammalian cells, and mice have provided important insights into the molecular processes that are responsible for mediating repeat instability. The age-dependent, ongoing repeat instability in somatic tissues, especially in terminally differentiated neurons, strongly suggests a robust role for pathways that are independent of DNA replication. Several genetic studies have indicated that transcription can play a critical role in repeat instability, potentially providing a basis for the instability observed in neurons. Transcription-induced repeat instability can be modulated by several DNA repair proteins, including those involved in mismatch repair (MMR) and transcription-coupled nucleotide excision repair (TC-NER). Though the mechanism is unclear, it is likely that transcription facilitates the formation of repeat-specific secondary structures, which act as intermediates to trigger DNA repair, eventually leading to changes in the length of the repeat tract. In addition, other processes associated with transcription can also modulate repeat instability, as shown in a variety of different systems. Overall, the mechanisms underlying repeat instability in humans are unexpectedly complicated. Because repeat-disease genes are widely expressed, transcription undoubtedly contributes to the repeat instability observed in many diseases, but it may be especially important in nondividing cells. Transcription-induced instability is likely to involve an extensive interplay not only of the core transcription machinery and DNA repair proteins, but also of proteins involved in chromatin remodeling, regulation of supercoiling, and removal of stalled RNA polymerases, as well as local DNA sequence effects. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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