Error-prone DNA polymerases: when making a mistake is the only way to get ahead

Annu Rev Genet. 2003;37:31-66. doi: 10.1146/annurev.genet.37.042203.132748.


Cells have high-fidelity polymerases whose task is to accurately replicate the genome, and low-fidelity polymerases with specialized functions. Although some of these low-fidelity polymerases are exceptional in their ability to replicate damaged DNA and restore the undamaged sequence, they are error prone on undamaged DNA. In fact, these error-prone polymerases are sometimes used in circumstances where the capacity to make errors has a selective advantage. The mutagenic potential of the error-prone polymerases requires that their expression, activity, and access to undamaged DNA templates be regulated. Here we review these specialized polymerases with an emphasis on their biological roles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA / biosynthesis*
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Mutation*


  • DNA
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase