Genetic variation is frequently mediated by genomic rearrangements that arise through interaction between dispersed repetitive elements present in every eukaryotic genome. This process is an important mechanism for generating diversity between and within organisms1-3. The human genome consists of approximately 40% repetitive sequence of retrotransposon origin, including a variety of LINEs and SINEs4. Exchange events between these repetitive elements can lead to genome rearrangements, including translocations, that can disrupt gene dosage and expression that can result in autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases5, as well as cancer in humans6-9.
Exchange between repetitive elements occurs in a variety of ways. Exchange between sequences that share perfect (or near-perfect) homology occurs by a process called homologous recombination (HR). By contrast, non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) uses little-or-no sequence homology for exchange10,11. The primary purpose of HR, in mitotic cells, is to repair double-strand breaks (DSBs) generated endogenously by aberrant DNA replication and oxidative lesions, or by exposure to ionizing radiation (IR), and other exogenous DNA damaging agents.
In the assay described here, DSBs are simultaneously created bordering recombination substrates at two different chromosomal loci in diploid cells by a galactose-inducible HO-endonuclease (Figure 1). The repair of the broken chromosomes generates chromosomal translocations by single strand annealing (SSA), a process where homologous sequences adjacent to the chromosome ends are covalently joined subsequent to annealing. One of the substrates, his3-Δ3', contains a 3' truncated HIS3 allele and is located on one copy of chromosome XV at the native HIS3 locus. The second substrate, his3-Δ5', is located at the LEU2 locus on one copy of chromosome III, and contains a 5' truncated HIS3 allele. Both substrates are flanked by a HO endonuclease recognition site that can be targeted for incision by HO-endonuclease. HO endonuclease recognition sites native to the MAT locus, on both copies of chromosome III, have been deleted in all strains. This prevents interaction between the recombination substrates and other broken chromosome ends from interfering in the assay. The KAN-MX-marked galactose-inducible HO endonuclease expression cassette is inserted at the TRP1 locus on chromosome IV. The substrates share 311 bp or 60 bp of the HIS3 coding sequence that can be used by the HR machinery for repair by SSA. Cells that use these substrates to repair broken chromosomes by HR form an intact HIS3 allele and a tXV::III chromosomal translocation that can be selected for by the ability to grow on medium lacking histidine (Figure 2A). Translocation frequency by HR is calculated by dividing the number of histidine prototrophic colonies that arise on selective medium by the total number of viable cells that arise after plating appropriate dilutions onto non-selective medium (Figure 2B). A variety of DNA repair mutants have been used to study the genetic control of translocation formation by SSA using this system12-14.