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Am J Cancer Res. 2012;2(3):249-68. Epub 2012 Apr 21.

Initiation of DNA double strand break repair: signaling and single-stranded resection dictate the choice between homologous recombination, non-homologous end-joining and alternative end-joining.

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Université Paris Sud, Laboratoire « Stabilité Génétique et Oncogenèse » CNRS, UMR 8200 and Institut de Cancérologie Gustave-Roussy PR2, 114 Rue Edouard Vaillant, 94805 VILLEJUIF. CNRS, France.


A DNA double strand break (DSB) is a highly toxic lesion, which can generate genetic instability and profound genome rearrangements. However, DSBs are required to generate diversity during physiological processes such as meiosis or the establishment of the immune repertoire. Thus, the precise regulation of a complex network of processes is necessary for the maintenance of genomic stability, allowing genetic diversity but protecting against genetic instability and its consequences on oncogenesis. Two main strategies are employed for DSB repair: homologous recombination (HR) and non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ). HR is initiated by single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) resection and requires sequence homology with an intact partner, while NHEJ requires neither resection at initiation nor a homologous partner. Thus, resection is an pivotal step at DSB repair initiation, driving the choice of the DSB repair pathway employed. However, an alternative end-joining (A-EJ) pathway, which is highly mutagenic, has recently been described; A-EJ is initiated by ssDNA resection but does not require a homologous partner. The choice of the appropriate DSB repair system, for instance according the cell cycle stage, is essential for genome stability maintenance. In this context, controlling the initial events of DSB repair is thus an essential step that may be irreversible, and the wrong decision should lead to dramatic consequences. Here, we first present the main DSB repair mechanisms and then discuss the importance of the choice of the appropriate DSB repair pathway according to the cell cycle phase. In a third section, we present the early steps of DSB repair i.e., DSB signaling, chromatin remodeling, and the regulation of ssDNA resection. In the last part, we discuss the competition between the different DSB repair mechanisms. Finally, we conclude with the importance of the fine tuning of this network for genome stability maintenance and for tumor protection in fine.


DNA double strand break; Homologous recombination; Non homologous end joining; Resection; alternative end-joining; chromatin remodeling; genetic instability; genome rearrangements

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