DNA mismatch repair and mutation avoidance pathways

J Cell Physiol. 2002 Apr;191(1):28-41. doi: 10.1002/jcp.10077.


Unpaired and mispaired bases in DNA can arise by replication errors, spontaneous or induced base modifications, and during recombination. The major pathway for correction of mismatches arising during replication is the MutHLS pathway of Escherichia coli and related pathways in other organisms. MutS initiates repair by binding to the mismatch, and activates together with MutL the MutH endonuclease, which incises at hemimethylated dam sites and thereby mediates strand discrimination. Multiple MutS and MutL homologues exist in eukaryotes, which play different roles in the mismatch repair (MMR) pathway or in recombination. No MutH homologues have been identified in eukaryotes, suggesting that strand discrimination is different to E. coli. Repair can be initiated by the heterodimers MSH2-MSH6 (MutSalpha) and MSH2-MSH3 (MutSbeta). Interestingly, MSH3 (and thus MutSbeta) is missing in some genomes, as for example in Drosophila, or is present as in Schizosaccharomyces pombe but appears to play no role in MMR. MLH1-PMS1 (MutLalpha) is the major MutL homologous heterodimer. Again some, but not all, eukaryotes have additional MutL homologues, which all form a heterodimer with MLH1 and which play a minor role in MMR. Additional factors with a possible function in eukaryotic MMR are PCNA, EXO1, and the DNA polymerases delta and epsilon. MMR-independent pathways or factors that can process some types of mismatches in DNA are nucleotide-excision repair (NER), some base excision repair (BER) glycosylases, and the flap endonuclease FEN-1. A pathway has been identified in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and human that corrects loops with about 16 to several hundreds of unpaired nucleotides. Such large loops cannot be processed by MMR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphatases*
  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology
  • Base Pair Mismatch*
  • DNA Repair*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins*
  • Humans
  • MutL Proteins
  • MutS DNA Mismatch-Binding Protein
  • Mutation / physiology*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics
  • Schizosaccharomyces / genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • MutL protein, E coli
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases
  • MutL Proteins
  • MutS DNA Mismatch-Binding Protein
  • MutS protein, E coli