The primary role of mismatch repair (MMR) is to maintain genomic stability by removing replication errors from DNA. This repair pathway was originally implicated in human cancer through an association between microsatellite instability in colorectal tumors in hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) kindreds. Microsatellites are short repetitive sequences which are often copied incorrectly by DNA polymerases because the template and daughter strands in these regions are particularly prone to misalignment. These replication-dependent events create loops of extrahelical bases which would produce frameshift mutations unless reversed by MMR. One consequence of MMR loss is a widespread expansion and contraction of these repeated sequences that affects the whole genome. Defective MMR is therefore associated with a mutator phenotype. Since the same pathway is also responsible for repairing base:base mismatches, defective cells also experience large increases in the frequency of spontaneous transition and transversion mutations. Three different approaches have been used to investigate the function of individual components of the MMR pathway. The first is based on the biochemical characterization of the purified protein complexes using synthetic DNA substrates containing loops or single mismatches. In the second, the biological consequences of MMR loss are inferred from the phenotype of cell lines established from repair-deficient human tumors, from tolerant cells or from mice defective in single MMR genes. In particular, molecular analysis of the mutations in endogenous or reporter genes helped to identify the DNA substrates for MMR. Finally, mice bearing single inactive MMR genes have helped to define the involvement of MMR in cancer prevention.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.