Common fragile sites (CFSs) are loci that are especially prone to forming gaps and breaks on metaphase chromosomes under conditions of replication stress. Although much has been learned about the cellular responses to gaps and breaks at CFSs, less is known about what makes these sites inherently unstable. CFS sequences are highly conserved in mammalian evolution and contain a number of sequence motifs that are hypothesized to contribute to their instability. To examine the role of CFS sequences in chromosome breakage, we stably transfected two BACs containing FRA3B sequences and two nonCFS control BACs containing similar sequence content into HCT116 cells and isolated cell clones with BACs integrated at ectopic sites. Integrated BACs were present at just a few to several hundred contiguous copies. Cell clones containing integrated FRA3B BACs showed a significant, three to sevenfold increase in aphidicolin-induced gaps and breaks at the integration site as compared to control BACs. Furthermore, many FRA3B integration sites displayed additional chromosome rearrangements associated with CFS instability. Clones were examined for replication timing and it was found that the integrated FRA3B sequences were not dependent on late replication for their fragility. This is the first direct evidence in human cells that introduction of CFS sequences into ectopic nonfragile loci is sufficient to recapitulate the instability found at CFSs. These data support the hypothesis that sequences at CFSs are inherently unstable, and are a major factor in the formation of replication stress induced gaps and breaks at CFSs. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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