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PLoS Genet. 2011 April; 7(4): e1002059.
Published online 2011 April 28. doi:  10.1371/journal.pgen.1002059
PMCID: PMC3084215

Alkylation Base Damage Is Converted into Repairable Double-Strand Breaks and Complex Intermediates in G2 Cells Lacking AP Endonuclease

Nancy Maizels, Editor


DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are potent sources of genome instability. While there is considerable genetic and molecular information about the disposition of direct DSBs and breaks that arise during replication, relatively little is known about DSBs derived during processing of single-strand lesions, especially for the case of single-strand breaks (SSBs) with 3′-blocked termini generated in vivo. Using our recently developed assay for detecting end-processing at random DSBs in budding yeast, we show that single-strand lesions produced by the alkylating agent methyl methanesulfonate (MMS) can generate DSBs in G2-arrested cells, i.e., S-phase independent. These derived DSBs were observed in apn1/2 endonuclease mutants and resulted from aborted base excision repair leading to 3′ blocked single-strand breaks following the creation of abasic (AP) sites. DSB formation was reduced by additional mutations that affect processing of AP sites including ntg1, ntg2, and, unexpectedly, ogg1, or by a lack of AP sites due to deletion of the MAG1 glycosylase gene. Similar to direct DSBs, the derived DSBs were subject to MRX (Mre11, Rad50, Xrs2)-determined resection and relied upon the recombinational repair genes RAD51, RAD52, as well as on the MCD1 cohesin gene, for repair. In addition, we identified a novel DNA intermediate, detected as slow-moving chromosomal DNA (SMD) in pulsed field electrophoresis gels shortly after MMS exposure in apn1/2 cells. The SMD requires nicked AP sites, but is independent of resection/recombination processes, suggesting that it is a novel structure generated during processing of 3′-blocked SSBs. Collectively, this study provides new insights into the potential consequences of alkylation base damage in vivo, including creation of novel structures as well as generation and repair of DSBs in nonreplicating cells.

Author Summary

DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are an important source of genome instability that can lead to severe biological consequences including tumorigenesis and cell death. Although much is known about DSBs induced directly by ionizing radiation and radiomimetic cancer drugs, there is a relative dearth of information about the formation of derived DSBs that arise from processing of single-strand lesions. Since as many as 10,000–200,000 single-strand lesions have been estimated to occur each day in mammalian cells, conversion of even a small percentage of such lesions to DSBs could dramatically affect genome stability. Here we addressed the mechanism of formation and repair of derived DSBs in vivo during the processing of DNA methylation damage in yeast that are defective in base excision repair (BER) due to a lack of AP endonucleases. Armed with a technique developed in our lab that detects resection at DSBs, a first step in DSB repair, we demonstrated formation of DSBs in G2 cells and the role of recombinational repair in subsequent chromosome restitution. Furthermore, we have identified a novel repair intermediate that can be generated if abasic sites are nicked by AP lyases, providing additional insights into the processing of 3′-blocked groups at single-strand breaks.

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