Disease-associated CAG·CTG triplet repeats expand rapidly in non-dividing mouse cells, but cell cycle arrest is insufficient to drive expansion

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Genetically unstable expanded CAG·CTG trinucleotide repeats are causal in a number of human disorders, including Huntington disease and myotonic dystrophy type 1. It is still widely assumed that DNA polymerase slippage during replication plays an important role in the accumulation of expansions. Nevertheless, somatic mosaicism correlates poorly with the proliferative capacity of the tissue and rates of cell turnover, suggesting that expansions can occur in the absence of replication. We monitored CAG·CTG repeat instability in transgenic mouse cells arrested by chemical or genetic manipulation of the cell cycle and generated unequivocal evidence for the continuous accumulation of repeat expansions in non-dividing cells. Importantly, the rates of expansion in non-dividing cells were at least as high as those of proliferating cells. These data are consistent with a major role for cell division-independent expansion in generating somatic mosaicismin vivo.Although expansions can accrue in non-dividing cells, we also show that cell cycle arrest is not sufficient to drive instability, implicating other factors as the key regulators of tissue-specific instability. Our data reveal thatde novoexpansion events are not limited to S-phase and further support a cell division-independent mutational pathway.

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