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Subcell Biochem. 2010;50:279-96. doi: 10.1007/978-90-481-3471-7_14.

Nonhomologous DNA end joining (NHEJ) and chromosomal translocations in humans.

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USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles, CA 90089-9176, USA.


Double-strand breaks (DSBs) arise in dividing cells about ten times per cell per day. Causes include replication across a nick, free radicals of oxidative metabolism, ionizing radiation, and inadvertent action by enzymes of DNA metabolism (such as failures of type II topoisomerases or cleavage by recombinases at off-target sites). There are two major double-strand break repair pathways. Homologous recombination (HR) can repair double-strand breaks, but only during S phase and typically only if there are hundreds of base pairs of homology. The more commonly used pathway is nonhomologous DNA end joining, abbreviated NHEJ. NHEJ can repair a DSB at any time during the cell cycle and does not require any homology, although a few nucleotides of terminal microhomology are often utilized by the NHEJ enzymes, if present. The proteins and enzymes of NHEJ include Ku, DNA-PKcs, Artemis, DNA polymerase mu (Pol micro), DNA polymerase lambda (Pol lambda), XLF (also called Cernunnos), XRCC4, and DNA ligase IV. These enzymes constitute what some call the classical NHEJ pathway, and in wild type cells, the vast majority of joining events appear to proceed using these components. NHEJ is present in many prokaryotes, as well as all eukaryotes, and very similar mechanistic flexibility evolved both convergently and divergently. When two double-strand breaks occur on different chromosomes, then the rejoining is almost always done by NHEJ. The causes of DSBs in lymphomas most often involve the RAG or AID enzymes that function in the specialized processes of antigen receptor gene rearrangement.

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