Indexed on: 22 Mar '14Published on: 22 Mar '14Published in: Accounts of Chemical Research
Our cellular genome is continuously exposed to a wide spectrum of exogenous and endogenous DNA damaging agents. These agents can lead to formation of an extensive array of DNA lesions including single- and double-stranded breaks, inter- and intrastrand cross-links, abasic sites, and modification of DNA nucleobases. Persistence of these DNA lesions can be both mutagenic and cytotoxic, and can cause altered gene expression and cellular apoptosis leading to aging, cancer, and various neurological disorders. To combat the deleterious effects of DNA lesions, cells have a variety of DNA repair pathways responsible for restoring damaged DNA to its canonical form. Here we examine one of those repair pathways, the base excision repair (BER) pathway, a highly regulated network of enzymes responsible for repair of modified nucleobase and abasic site lesions. The enzymes required to reconstitute BER in vitro have been identified, and the repair event can be considered to occur in two parts: (1) excision of the modified nucleobase by a DNA glycosylase, and (2) filling the resulting "hole" with an undamaged nucleobase by a series of downstream enzymes. DNA glycosylases, which initiate a BER event, recognize and remove specific modified nucleobases and yield an abasic site as the product. The abasic site, a highly reactive BER intermediate, is further processed by AP endonuclease 1 (APE1), which cleaves the DNA backbone 5' to the abasic site, generating a nick in the DNA backbone. After action of APE1, BER can follow one of two subpathways, the short-patch (SP) or long-patch (LP) version, which differ based on the number of nucleotides a polymerase incorporates at the nick site. DNA ligase is responsible for sealing the nick in the backbone and regenerating undamaged duplex. Not surprisingly, and consistent with the idea that BER maintains genetic stability, deficiency and/or inactivity of BER enzymes can be detrimental and result in cancer. Intriguingly, this DNA repair pathway has also been implicated in causing genetic instability by contributing to the trinucleotide repeat expansion associated with several neurological disorders. Within this Account, we outline the chemistry of the human BER pathway with a mechanistic focus on the DNA glycosylases that initiate the repair event. Furthermore, we describe kinetic studies of many BER enzymes as a means to understand the complex coordination that occurs during this highly regulated event. Finally, we examine the pitfalls associated with deficiency in BER activity, as well as instances when BER goes awry.