Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type






First Advisor

Dr. Andrew J. Pierce


The human ribosomal RNA genes are critically important for cell metabolism and viability. They code for the catalytic RNAs which, encased in a housing of more than 80 ribosomal proteins, link together amino acids by peptide bonds to generate all cellular proteins. Because the RNAs are not repeatedly translated, as is the case with messenger RNAs, multiple copies are required. The genes which code for the human ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs) are arranged as clusters of tandemly repeated sequences. Three of four catalytic RNAs are spliced from a single transcript. The genes are located on the short arms of the five acrocentric chromosomes (13, 14, 15, 21, and 22). The genes for the fourth rRNA are on chromosome 1q42, also arranged as a cluster of tandem repeats. The repeats are extremely similar in sequence, which makes them ideal for misalignment, non‐allelic homologous recombination (NAHR), and genomic destabilization during meiosis , replication, and damage repair. In this dissertation, I have used pulse‐field gel electrophoresis and in‐blot Southern hybridization to explore the physical structure of the human rRNA genes and determine their stability and heritability in normal, healthy individuals. I have also compared their structure in solid tumors compared to normal, healthy tissue from the same patient to determine whether dysregulated homologous recombination is an important means of genomic destabilization in cancer progression. Finally, I used the NCI‐60 panel of human cancer cell lines to compare the results from the pulsed‐field analysis, now called the gene cluster instability (GCI) assay, to two other indicators of homologous‐recombination-mediated genomic instability: sister chromatid exchange, and 5‐hydroxymethyl‐2’deoxyuridine sensitivity.



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