To characterize the repair pathways of chromosome double-strand breaks (DSBs), one approach involves monitoring the repair of site-specific DSBs generated by rare-cutting endonucleases, such as I-SceI. Using this method, we first describe the roles of Ercc1, Msh2, Nbs1, Xrcc4, and Brca1 in a set of distinct repair events. Subsequently, we considered that the outcome of such assays could be influenced by the persistent nature of I-SceI-induced DSBs, in that end-joining (EJ) products that restore the I-SceI site are prone to repeated cutting. To address this aspect of repair, we modified I-SceI-induced DSBs by co-expressing I-SceI with a non-processive 3′ exonuclease, Trex2, which we predicted would cause partial degradation of I-SceI 3′ overhangs. We find that Trex2 expression facilitates the formation of I-SceI-resistant EJ products, which reduces the potential for repeated cutting by I-SceI and, hence, limits the persistence of I-SceI-induced DSBs. Using this approach, we find that Trex2 expression causes a significant reduction in the frequency of repair pathways that result in substantial deletion mutations: EJ between distal ends of two tandem DSBs, single-strand annealing, and alternative-NHEJ. In contrast, Trex2 expression does not inhibit homology-directed repair. These results indicate that limiting the persistence of a DSB causes a reduction in the frequency of repair pathways that lead to significant genetic loss. Furthermore, we find that individual genetic factors play distinct roles during repair of non-cohesive DSB ends that are generated via co-expression of I-SceI with Trex2.
A deleterious lesion in DNA is a break of both strands, or a chromosome double-strand break (DSB). DSBs can arise during normal cellular metabolism, but are also a consequence of many forms of cancer therapy. If DSBs are not repaired prior to cell division, entire segments of a chromosome can be lost. Several pathways ensure that DSBs are repaired, though some pathways are prone to causing mutations and/or chromosomal rearrangements, each of which can contribute to cancer development. In the first part of this study, we describe the roles of individual genetic factors in distinct repair pathways of DSBs generated by the I-SceI endonuclease. From these studies, we find that some factors can function in multiple repair pathways. In the second part of this study, we present a method for partially degrading the cohesive DSB overhangs that are generated by I-SceI, which we find facilitates repair products that are not prone to being re-cut by the endonuclease. As a consequence, we have limited the persistence of such breaks, which we find causes a reduction in repair pathways that lead to significant genetic loss. As well, we use this method to characterize the role of individual genetic factors during the repair of non-cohesive DSB ends.