Myotonic dystrophy is caused by an expansion of a CTG triplet repeat sequence in the 3' noncoding region of a protein kinase gene, yet the mechanism by which the triplet repeat expansion causes disease remains unknown. This report demonstrates that a DNase I hypersensitive site is positioned 3' of the triplet repeat in the wild-type allele in both fibroblasts and skeletal muscle cells. In three unrelated individuals with myotonic dystrophy that have large expansions of the triplet repeat, the allele with the triplet repeat expansion exhibited both overall DNase I resistance and inaccessibility of nucleases to the adjacent hypersensitive site. These results indicate that the triplet repeat expansion alters the adjacent chromatin structure, establishing a region of condensed chromatin, and suggests a molecular mechanism for myotonic dystrophy.
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