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EMBO J. 2017 Dec 15;36(24):3634-3649. doi: 10.15252/embj.201796948. Epub 2017 Oct 27.

Mutational signatures of non-homologous and polymerase theta-mediated end-joining in embryonic stem cells.

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Department of Human Genetics, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Department of Human Genetics, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands


Cells employ potentially mutagenic DNA repair mechanisms to avoid the detrimental effects of chromosome breaks on cell survival. While classical non-homologous end-joining (cNHEJ) is largely error-free, alternative end-joining pathways have been described that are intrinsically mutagenic. Which end-joining mechanisms operate in germ and embryonic cells and thus contribute to heritable mutations found in congenital diseases is, however, still largely elusive. Here, we determined the genetic requirements for the repair of CRISPR/Cas9-induced chromosomal breaks of different configurations, and establish the mutational consequences. We find that cNHEJ and polymerase theta-mediated end-joining (TMEJ) act both parallel and redundant in mouse embryonic stem cells and account for virtually all end-joining activity. Surprisingly, mutagenic repair by polymerase theta (Pol θ, encoded by the Polq gene) is most prevalent for blunt double-strand breaks (DSBs), while cNHEJ dictates mutagenic repair of DSBs with protruding ends, in which the cNHEJ polymerases lambda and mu play minor roles. We conclude that cNHEJ-dependent repair of DSBs with protruding ends can explain de novo formation of tandem duplications in mammalian genomes.


cNHEJ ; CRISPR/Cas9; double‐strand break repair; embryonic stem cells; polymerase theta‐mediated end joining

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