Interaction of proteins with inverted repeats and cruciform structures in nucleic acids

Richard P. Bowater, Natália Bohálová, Václav Brázda

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Cruciforms occur when inverted repeat sequences in double-stranded DNA adopt intra-strand hairpins on opposing strands. Biophysical and molecular studies of these structures confirm their characterization as four-way junctions and have demonstrated that several factors influence their stability, including overall chromatin structure and DNA supercoiling. Here, we review our understanding of processes that influence the formation and stability of cruciforms in genomes, covering the range of sequences shown to have biological significance. It is challenging to accurately sequence repetitive DNA sequences, but recent advances in sequencing methods have deepened understanding about the amounts of inverted repeats in genomes from all forms of life. We highlight that, in the majority of genomes, inverted repeats are present in higher numbers than is expected from a random occurrence. It is, therefore, becoming clear that inverted repeats play important roles in regulating many aspects of DNA metabolism, including replication, gene expression, and recombination. Cruciforms are targets for many architectural and regulatory proteins, including topoisomerases, p53, Rif1, and others. Notably, some of these proteins can induce the formation of cruciform structures when they bind to DNA. Inverted repeat sequences also influence the evolution of genomes, and growing evidence highlights their significance in several human diseases, suggesting that the inverted repeat sequences and/or DNA cruciforms could be useful therapeutic targets in some cases.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6171
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number11
Early online date31 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


  • cruciform
  • DNA base sequence
  • DNA structure
  • DNA supercoiling
  • epigenetics
  • genome stability
  • inverted repeat
  • replication
  • transcription

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