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ABSTRACT: In mammalian cells, DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are repaired by three pathways, nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ), gene conversion (GC) and single-strand annealing (SSA). These pathways are distinct with regard to repair efficiency and mutagenic potential and must be tightly controlled to preserve viability and genomic stability. Here, we employed chromosomal reporter constructs to characterize the hierarchy of NHEJ, GC and SSA at a single I-SceI-induced DSB in Chinese hamster ovary cells. We discovered that the use of GC and SSA was increased by 6- to 8-fold upon loss of Ku80 function, suggesting that NHEJ is dominant over the other two pathways. However, NHEJ efficiency was not altered if GC was impaired by Rad51 knockdown. Interestingly, when SSA was made available as an alternative mode for DSB repair, loss of Rad51 function led to an increase in SSA activity at the expense of NHEJ, implying that Rad51 may indirectly promote NHEJ by limiting SSA. We conclude that a repair hierarchy exists to limit the access of the most mutagenic mechanism, SSA, to the break site. Furthermore, the cellular choice of repair pathways is reversible and can be influenced at the level of effector proteins such as Ku80 or Rad51.Nucleic Acids Research 08/2008; 36(12):4088-98. DOI:10.1093/nar/gkn347 · 8.81 Impact FactorThis article is viewable in ResearchGate's enriched formatRG Format enables you to read in context with side-by-side figures, citations, and feedback from experts in your field.