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Cytogenet Genome Res. 2004;104(1-4):65-71.

Progress towards understanding the nature of chromatid breakage.

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Cancer Biology Group, Bute Medical School, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland.


The wide range of sensitivities of stimulated T-cells from different individuals to radiation-induced chromatid breakage indicates the involvement of several low penetrance genes that appear to link elevated chromatid breakage to cancer susceptibility. The mechanisms of chromatid breakage are not yet fully understood. However, evidence is accumulating that suggests chromatid breaks are not simply expanded DNA double-strand breaks (DSB). Three models of chromatid breakage are considered. The classical breakage-first and the Revell "exchange" models do not accord with current evidence. Therefore a derivative of Revell's model has been proposed whereby both spontaneous and radiation-induced chromatid breaks result from DSB signaling and rearrangement processes from within large looped chromatin domains. Examples of such rearrangements can be observed by harlequin staining whereby an exchange of strands occurs immediately adjacent to the break site. However, these interchromatid rearrangements comprise less than 20% of the total breaks. The rest are thought to result from intrachromatid rearrangements, including a very small proportion involving complete excision of a looped domain. Work is in progress with the aim of revealing these rearrangements, which may involve the formation of inversions adjacent to the break sites. It is postulated that the disappearance of chromatid breaks with time results from the completion of such rearrangements, rather than from the rejoining of DSB. Elevated frequencies of chromatid breaks occur in irradiated cells with defects in both nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) and homologous recombination (HR) pathways, however there is little evidence of a correlation between reduced DSB rejoining and disappearance of chromatid breaks. Moreover, at least one treatment which abrogates the disappearance of chromatid breaks with time leaves DSB rejoining unaffected. The I-SceI DSB system holds considerable promise for the elucidation of these mechanisms, although the break frequency is relatively low in the cell lines so far derived. Techniques to study and improve such systems are under way in different cell lines. Clearly, much remains to be done to clarify the mechanisms involved in chromatid breakage, but the experimental models are becoming available with which we can begin to answer some of the key questions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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