The RET/PTC3 oncogene is an activated form of the RET protooncogene, which is frequently rearranged in papillary thyroid carcinoma. RET/PTC3 results from a structural rearrangement between the ELE1 and the RET genes, and it has been observed in both sporadic and radiation-associated post- Chernobyl tumors. To understand the molecular basis that predisposes RET and ELE1 genes to be recurrent targets of 'illegitimate' recombination, we examined the genomic regions containing the ELE1/RET breakpoints of six sporadic and three post-Chernobyl tumors in two papillary carcinomas of different origins. Our data indicated, in both genes, a clustering of the breakpoints in regions designated ELE1-bcr (1.8 kb) and RET-bcr (1.9 kb). Notably, in all sporadic tumors and in one post-Chernobyl tumor the ELE1/RET recombination corresponded with short sequences of homology (3-7 nt) between the two rearranging genes. In addition, we observed an interesting distribution of the post-Chernobyl breakpoints in ELE1-bcr located within an Alu element, or in between two close Alu elements, and always in A+T-rich regions.
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