Microhomology-mediated end joining (MMEJ) repairs DNA breaks by annealing 2-20 bp of flanking microhomology (MH), yielding repair products with deletions of MH and inter-MH sequences. MMEJ is thus a highly error prone repair mechanism with a strong propensity to lead to chromosomal translocations and cancer-causing mutations. Accordingly, the breakpoint junctions of many oncogenic chromosomal translocations feature MH, underscoring the importance of this mechanism for the development chromosome instability and carcinogenesis. Emerging evidence also suggests that MMEJ is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism from yeast to human, and it is involved in the repair of DNA double strand breaks, telomere fusion and immune receptor development. However, we do not know when and where MMEJ operates or how it coordinates and competes against other DNA repair processes. We also do not know if the chromatin and nuclear landscape surrounding DNA breaks impinge on the outcomes of MMEJ and chromosomal aberration formation. It is thus imperative to define the basic mechanism of MMEJ and its genetic and biochemical attributes in a model system with the most tractability. Recently, we have developed both chromosome-based and plasmid-based systems that produce MMEJ repair in budding yeast cells at a high frequency. These systems are most amenable for defining the spatial and temporal patterns of MMEJ and its relationship to canonical repair pathways. Employing these assays, we will test if MMEJ occurs at specific times in the cell cycle and is restricted to a unique nuclear compartment. We will also initiate a powerful genetic screen for new MMEJ genes by combining our plasmid-based MMEJ assay with the bar-coded array or a next generation sequencing technique with the nonessential gene deletion library. Using an approach combining genetics, cell biology and genomic techniques, we also plan to address how MMEJ bypasses end tethering and chromosome territories, two barriers against the formation of chromosomal translocation. Together, the outcomes of this proposal will shed light on the fundamental principles of MMEJ and its contribution to chromosomal instability in many human diseases including cancer.
Presence of microhomology is the frequent feature of pathogenic chromosomal translocation breakpoints in humans and has been implicated in the error prone repair of DNA breaks in both yeast and vertebrate cells. However, we do not know how microhomology directs DNA repair and chromosome aberrations. The proposed research will address these fundamental biological questions pertaining to wide ranges of human genetic diseases and cancers.
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