Exon deletions in the human DMD gene, which encodes the dystrophin protein, are the molecular defect in 50-70% of cases of Duchenne/Becker muscular dystrophies. Deletions are preferentially clustered in the 5′ (exons 2-20) and the central (exons 45-53) region of DMD, likely because local DNA structure predisposes to specific breakage or recombination events. Notably, innovative therapeutic strategies may rescue dystrophin function by homology-based specific targeting of sequences within the central DMD hot spot deletion region. To further study molecular mechanisms that generate such frequent genome variations and to identify residual intronic sequences, we sequenced 17 deletion breakpoints within introns 50 and 51 of DMD and analyzed the surrounding genomic architecture. There was no breakpoint clustering within the introns nor extensive homology between sequences adjacent to each junction. However, at or near the breakpoint, we found microhomology, short tandem repeats, interspersed repeat elements and short sequence stretches that predispose to DNA deletion or bending. Identification of such structural elements contributes to elucidate general mechanisms generating deletion within the DMD gene. Moreover, precise mapping of deletion breakpoints and localization of repeated elements are of interest, because residual intronic sequences may be targeted by therapeutic strategies based on genome editing correction.
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