We have investigated the ability of growing dictyate oocytes and early preimplantation embryos of the mouse to process extrachromosomal DNA molecules with free ends by intranuclearly microinjecting DNA fragments containing a region of homology of various extent at either the 5' or 3' terminus. Homologous recombination of these fragments by single-strand annealing (SSA), but not other DNA recombination/joining mechanisms, resulted in the formation of a full-length hsp-lacZ-pA fusion gene that was transcriptionally activated by heat shock in growing oocytes and spontaneously at the early two-cell stage in the embryos, making it possible to quantitatively evaluate SSA activities of these cells by the beta-galactosidase produced. SSA activities of oocytes and embryos were similar in their general properties and in the activity levels observed with saturating amounts of DNA. However, embryo SSA was almost one order of magnitude less effective than that of oocytes. Oocyte and embryo 5' --> 3' exonuclease (a key function of the SSA pathway) and DNA nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ) activities were also investigated using an asymmetric PCR assay. Results showed that NHEJ is lacking in oocytes and is very prominent in the embryos, where it competes with SSA for the injected DNA.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.