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Int J Mol Sci. 2012;13(9):11844-60. doi: 10.3390/ijms130911844. Epub 2012 Sep 19.

The heterochromatic barrier to DNA double strand break repair: how to get the entry visa.

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Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute, Departments of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Oncology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, T2N 4N1, Canada.


Over recent decades, a deep understanding of pathways that repair DNA double strand breaks (DSB) has been gained from biochemical, structural, biophysical and cellular studies. DNA non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) and homologous recombination (HR) represent the two major DSB repair pathways, and both processes are now well understood. Recent work has demonstrated that the chromatin environment at a DSB significantly impacts upon DSB repair and that, moreover, dramatic modifications arise in the chromatin surrounding a DSB. Chromatin is broadly divided into open, transcriptionally active, euchromatin (EC) and highly compacted, transcriptionally inert, heterochromatin (HC), although these represent extremes of a spectrum. The HC superstructure restricts both DSB repair and damage response signaling. Moreover, DSBs within HC (HC-DSBs) are rapidly relocalized to the EC-HC interface. The damage response protein kinase, ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM), is required for HC-DSB repair but is dispensable for the relocalization of HC-DSBs. It has been proposed that ATM signaling enhances HC relaxation in the DSB vicinity and that this is a prerequisite for HC-DSB repair. Hence, ATM is essential for repair of HC-DSBs. Here, we discuss how HC impacts upon the response to DSBs and how ATM overcomes the barrier that HC poses to repair.


DNA non-homologous end-joining; ataxia telangiectasia mutated; chromatin; damage response signaling; heterochromatin; homologous recombination

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