Common fragile sites, extremely large genes, neural development and cancer

David I. Smith, Yu Zhu, Sarah McAvoy, Robert Kuhn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations


Common fragile sites (CFSs) are large regions of profound genomic instability found in all individuals. They are biologically significant due to their role in a number of genomic alterations that are frequently found in many different types of cancer. The first CFS to be cloned and characterized was FRA3B, the most active CFS in the human genome. Instability within this region extends for over 4.0 Mbs and contained within the center of this CFS is the FHIT gene spanning 1.5 Mbs of genomic sequence. There are frequent deletions and other alterations within this gene in multiple tumor types and the protein encoded by this gene has been demonstrated to function as a tumor suppressor in vitro and in vivo. In spite of this, FHIT is not a traditional mutational target in cancer and many tumors have large intronic deletions without any exonic alterations. There are several other very large genes found within CFS regions including Parkin (1.37 Mbs in FRA6E), GRID2 (1.47 Mbs within 4q22.3), and WWOX (1.11 Mbs within FRA16D). These genes also appear to function as tumor suppressors but are not traditional mutational targets in cancer. Each of these genes is highly conserved and the regions spanning them are CFSs in mice. We have now examined lists of the largest human genes and found forty that span over one megabase. Many of these are derived from chromosomal bands containing CFSs. BACs within these genes are being utilized as FISH probes to determine if these are also CFS genes. Thus far we have identified the following as CFS genes: CNTNAP2 (2.3 Mbs in FRA7I), DMD (2.09 Mbs in FRAXC), LRP1B (1.9 Mbs in FRA2F), CTNNA3 (1.78 Mbs in FRA10D), DAB1 (1.55 Mbs in FRA1B), and IL1RAPL1 (1.36 Mbs in FRAXC). Although, these genes are also not traditional mutational targets in cancer they do exhibit loss of expression in multiple tumor types suggesting that they may also function as tumor suppressors. Many of the large CFS genes are involved in neurological development. Parkin is mutated in autosomal recessive juvenile Parkinsonism and deletions in mice are associated with the mouse mutant Quaking (viable). Spontaneous mouse mutants in GRID2 and DAB1 are associated with Lurcher and Reelin, respectively. In humans, alterations in IL1RAPL1 cause X-linked mental retardation and loss of WWOX is associated with Tau phosphorylation. We propose that the instability-induced alterations in these genes contribute to cancer development in a two-step process. Initial alterations will primarily occur within intronic regions, as these genes are greater than 99% intronic. These are not benign. Instead, they alter the repertoire of transcripts produced from these genes. As cancer progresses deletions will begin to encompass exons resulting in gene inactivation. These two types of alterations occurring in multiple large CFS genes may contribute significantly to the heterogeneity observed in cancer. There are also important potential linkages between normal neurological development and the development of cancer mediated by alterations in these genes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-57
Number of pages10
JournalCancer Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 28 2006


  • Cancer
  • Common fragile sites
  • Genes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'Common fragile sites, extremely large genes, neural development and cancer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this