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Human subtelomeric duplicon structure and organization

Anthony Ambrosini12, Sheila Paul1, Sufen Hu1 and Harold Riethman1*

Author Affiliations

1 The Wistar Institute, Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA

2 Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA

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Genome Biology 2007, 8:R151  doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-7-r151

Published: 30 July 2007



Human subtelomeric segmental duplications ('subtelomeric repeats') comprise about 25% of the most distal 500 kb and 80% of the most distal 100 kb in human DNA. A systematic analysis of the duplication substructure of human subtelomeric regions was done in order to develop a detailed understanding of subtelomeric sequence organization and a nucleotide sequence-level characterization of subtelomeric duplicon families.


The extent of nucleotide sequence divergence within subtelomeric duplicon families varies considerably, as does the organization of duplicon blocks at subtelomere alleles. Subtelomeric internal (TTAGGG)n-like tracts occur at duplicon boundaries, suggesting their involvement in the generation of the complex sequence organization. Most duplicons have copies at both subtelomere and non-subtelomere locations, but a class of duplicon blocks is identified that are subtelomere-specific. In addition, a group of six subterminal duplicon families are identified that, together with six single-copy telomere-adjacent segments, include all of the (TTAGGG)n-adjacent sequence identified so far in the human genome.


Identification of a class of duplicon blocks that is subtelomere-specific will facilitate high-resolution analysis of subtelomere repeat copy number variation as well as studies involving somatic subtelomere rearrangements. The significant levels of nucleotide sequence divergence within many duplicon families as well as the differential organization of duplicon blocks on subtelomere alleles may provide opportunities for allele-specific subtelomere marker development; this is especially true for subterminal regions, where divergence and organizational differences are the greatest. These subterminal sequence families comprise the immediate cis-elements for (TTAGGG)n tracts, and are prime candidates for subtelomeric sequences regulating telomere-specific (TTAGGG)n tract length in humans.