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PLoS Genet. 2018 Mar 30;14(3):e1007315. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007315. eCollection 2018 Mar.

The presence of rNTPs decreases the speed of mitochondrial DNA replication.

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Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden.


Ribonucleotides (rNMPs) are frequently incorporated during replication or repair by DNA polymerases and failure to remove them leads to instability of nuclear DNA (nDNA). Conversely, rNMPs appear to be relatively well-tolerated in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), although the mechanisms behind the tolerance remain unclear. We here show that the human mitochondrial DNA polymerase gamma (Pol γ) bypasses single rNMPs with an unprecedentedly high fidelity and efficiency. In addition, Pol γ exhibits a strikingly low frequency of rNMP incorporation, a property, which we find is independent of its exonuclease activity. However, the physiological levels of free rNTPs partially inhibit DNA synthesis by Pol γ and render the polymerase more sensitive to imbalanced dNTP pools. The characteristics of Pol γ reported here could have implications for forms of mtDNA depletion syndrome (MDS) that are associated with imbalanced cellular dNTP pools. Our results show that at the rNTP/dNTP ratios that are expected to prevail in such disease states, Pol γ enters a polymerase/exonuclease idling mode that leads to mtDNA replication stalling. This could ultimately lead to mtDNA depletion and, consequently, to mitochondrial disease phenotypes such as those observed in MDS.

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