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Subcell Biochem. 2010;50:189-209. doi: 10.1007/978-90-481-3471-7_10.

DNA polymerase eta, a key protein in translesion synthesis in human cells.

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Centre for Chromosome Biology, School of Natural Sciences, National University of Ireland, Galway, Galway, Galway, Ireland.


Genomic DNA is constantly damaged by exposure to exogenous and endogenous agents. Bulky adducts such as UV-induced cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs) in the template DNA present a barrier to DNA synthesis by the major eukaryotic replicative polymerases including DNA polymerase delta. Translesion synthesis (TLS) carried out by specialized DNA polymerases is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism of DNA damage tolerance. The Y family of DNA polymerases, including DNA polymerase eta (Pol eta), the subject of this chapter, play a key role in TLS. Mutations in the human POLH gene encoding Pol eta underlie the genetic disease xeroderma pigmentosum variant (XPV), characterized by sun sensitivity, elevated incidence of skin cancer, and at the cellular level, by delayed replication and hypermutability after UV-irradiation. Pol eta is a low fidelity enzyme when copying undamaged DNA, but can carry out error-free TLS at sites of UV-induced dithymine CPDs. The active site of Pol eta has an open conformation that can accommodate CPDs, as well as cisplatin-induced intrastrand DNA crosslinks. Pol eta is recruited to sites of replication arrest in a tightly regulated process through interaction with PCNA. Pol eta-deficient cells show strong activation of downstream DNA damage responses including ATR signaling, and accumulate strand breaks as a result of replication fork collapse. Thus, Pol eta plays an important role in preventing genome instability after UV- and cisplatin-induced DNA damage. Inhibition of DNA damage tolerance pathways in tumors might also represent an approach to potentiate the effects of DNA damaging agents such as cisplatin.

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