DNA polymerase mutagenic bypass and proofreading of endogenous DNA lesions

Mutat Res. 1999 Mar 8;424(1-2):221-36. doi: 10.1016/s0027-5107(99)00021-4.


DNA polymerases differentiate between correct and incorrect substrates during synthesis on undamaged DNA templates through the biochemical steps of base incorporation, primer-template extension and proofreading excision. Recent research examining DNA polymerase processing of abasic, alkylation and oxidative lesions is reviewed in light of these discrimination mechanisms. Inhibition of DNA synthesis results from correct polymerase discrimination against utilization of geometrically incorrect template bases or 3' terminal basepairs. The efficiency of translesion synthesis is thus related to the physical structure of the lesion containing DNA. However, variations in enzyme structure and kinetics result in translesion synthesis efficiencies that are also dependent upon the DNA polymerase. With a low probability, polymerase misinsertion events create a 3' lesion terminus which is geometrically favored over the correct lesion basepair, resulting in mutagenic translesion synthesis. For example, both polymerase alpha and polymerase beta appear to require the formation of a stable 3' primer-template structure for efficient abasic site translesion synthesis. However, the enzymes differ as to the precise molecular make-up of the stable DNA structure, resulting in different mutational specificities. Similar mechanisms may be applicable to oxidative damage, where mutational specificities dependent upon the DNA polymerase also have been observed. In vitro reaction conditions also influence DNA polymerase processing of lesions. Using an in vitro herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV-tk) gene forward mutation assay, we demonstrate that high dNTP substrate concentrations affect the mutagenic specificity of translesion synthesis using alkylated templates. The exonuclease-deficient Klenow polymerase error frequency for G-->A transition mutations using templates modified by N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea (ENU) was four-fold higher at 1000 microM [dNTP], relative to 50 microM [dNTP], consistent with an increased efficiency of extension of the etO6G.T mispair. Moreover, the frequency of other ENU-induced polymerase errors was suppressed when polymerase reactions contained 50 microM dNTP, relative to 1000 microM dNTP. The efficiency of proofreading as a polymerase error discrimination mechanism reflects a balance between the competing processes of 3'-->5' exonuclease removal of mispairs and polymerization of the next correct nucleotide. Polymerases that are devoid of a proofreading exonuclease generally display enhanced abasic site translesion synthesis relative to proofreading-proficient enzymes. In addition, the proofreading exonucleases of Escherichia coli Pol I and T4 DNA polymerases have been found to remove mispairs caused by abasic sites and oxidative lesions, respectively, resulting in lowered polymerase error rates. However, the magnitude of the exonuclease effect is small (less than 10-fold), and highly dependent upon the DNA polymerase-exonuclease. We have studied proofreading exonuclease removal of alkylation damage in the HSV-tk forward assay. We observed no significant reduction in the magnitude of the mutant frequency vs. dose-response curves when N-methyl-N-nitrosourea or ENU-treated templates were used in exonuclease-proficient Klenow polymerase reactions, as compared to the exonuclease-deficient polymerase reactions. Thus, available data suggest that proofreading excision of endogenous lesion mispairs does occur, but the efficiency is dependent upon the lesion and the DNA polymerase-exonuclease studied.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkylation
  • Animals
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • DNA Repair
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Mutagenesis*


  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase