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The instability of chromosomes with breaks induced by X-irradiation led to the proposal that the natural ends of chromosomes are capped by a specialized structure, the telomere. Telomeres prevent end-to-end fusions and exonucleolytic degradation, enable the end of the linear DNA molecule to replicate, and function in cell division. Human telomeric DNA comprises approximately 2-20 kilobases (kb) of the tandemly repeated sequence (TTAGGG)n oriented 5'----3' in towards the end of the chromosome, interspersed with variant repeats in the proximal region. Immediately subtelomeric lie families of unrelated repeat motifs (telomere-associated sequences) whose function, if any, is unknown. In lower eukaryotes the formation and maintenance of telomeres may be mediated enzymatically (by telomerase) or by recombination; in man the mechanisms are poorly understood, although telomerase has been identified in HeLa cells. Here we describe an alpha thalassaemia mutation associated with terminal truncation of the short arm of chromosome 16 (within band 16p13-3) to a site 50 kb distal to the alpha globin genes, and show that (TTAGGG)n has been added directly to the site of the break. The mutation is stably inherited, proving that telomeric DNA alone is sufficient to stabilize the broken chromosome end. This mechanism may occur in any genetic disease associated with chromosome truncation.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





868 - 871


Base Sequence, Chromosome Deletion, Chromosomes, Human, Pair 16, Endodeoxyribonucleases, Genotype, Globins, Humans, Male, Molecular Sequence Data, Mutation, Nucleic Acid Hybridization, Pedigree, Polymerase Chain Reaction, Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length, Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid, Thalassemia