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Open Access Research article

GTAG- and CGTC-tagged palindromic DNA repeats in prokaryotes

Pier Paolo Di Nocera*, Eliana De Gregorio and Francesco Rocco

Author Affiliations

Dipartimento di Medicina Molecolare e Biotecnologie Mediche, Università Federico II, Napoli, Via S. Pansini 5 80131, Naples, Italy

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:522  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-522

Published: 31 July 2013



REPs (Repetitive Extragenic Palindromes) are small (20–40 bp) palindromic repeats found in high copies in some prokaryotic genomes, hypothesized to play a role in DNA supercoiling, transcription termination, mRNA stabilization.


We have monitored a large number of REP elements in prokaryotic genomes, and found that most can be sorted into two large DNA super-families, as they feature at one end unpaired motifs fitting either the GTAG or the CGTC consensus. Tagged REPs have been identified in >80 species in 8 different phyla. GTAG and CGTC repeats reside predominantly in microorganisms of the gamma and alpha division of Proteobacteria, respectively. However, the identification of members of both super- families in deeper branching phyla such Cyanobacteria and Planctomycetes supports the notion that REPs are old components of the bacterial chromosome. On the basis of sequence content and overall structure, GTAG and CGTC repeats have been assigned to 24 and 4 families, respectively. Of these, some are species-specific, others reside in multiple species, and several organisms contain different REP types. In many families, most units are close to each other in opposite orientation, and may potentially fold into larger secondary structures. In different REP-rich genomes the repeats are predominantly located between unidirectionally and convergently transcribed ORFs. REPs are predominantly located downstream from coding regions, and many are plausibly transcribed and function as RNA elements. REPs located inside genes have been identified in several species. Many lie within replication and global genome repair genes. It has been hypothesized that GTAG REPs are miniature transposons mobilized by specific transposases known as RAYTs (REP associated tyrosine transposases). RAYT genes are flanked either by GTAG repeats or by long terminal inverted repeats (TIRs) unrelated to GTAG repeats. Moderately abundant families of TIRs have been identified in multiple species.


CGTC REPs apparently lack a dedicated transposase. Future work will clarify whether these elements may be mobilized by RAYTs or other transposases, and assess if de-novo formation of either GTAG or CGTC repeats type still occurs.

Palindromic sequences; Repeated DNA families; RNA hairpins; Transposases; Mobile DNA; Intragenic DNA elements