DNA replication origins (ORI) are regulatory regions from which the genome is replicated once every cell cycle. A widely used method for their identification in mammalian chromosomes relies on quantitative PCR of DNA nascent strands across candidate regions. We developed a new high-resolution PCR strategy to localize ORIs directly on total unfractionated human DNA. The increase in sensitivity provided by this approach has revealed that a short region of approximately 200-base-pair overlapping well-characterized replication origins undergoes several rounds of replication, coinciding with their specific time of activation during S phase. This process generates a population of discrete dsDNA fragments detectable as free molecules in preparations of total DNA in normally proliferating cells. Overreplicated regions have precise boundaries at the edge of the nucleosome-free gap that encompasses the transcription initiation sites of CpG island promoters. By itself, active transcription does not induce overreplication but does stimulate it at ORIs associated with promoters. The coincidence in time and space between the overproduction of short DNA fragments and ORI activity predicts the precise localization of thousands of ORIs in the human genome and uncovers a previously unnoticed step in the initiation of DNA replication.
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