Non-homologous DNA end joining

Acta Biochim Pol. 2003;50(4):891-908.


DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are a serious threat for the cell and when not repaired or misrepaired can result in mutations or chromosome rearrangements and eventually in cell death. Therefore, cells have evolved a number of pathways to deal with DSB including homologous recombination (HR), single-strand annealing (SSA) and non-homologous end joining (NHEJ). In mammals DSBs are primarily repaired by NHEJ and HR, while HR repair dominates in yeast, but this depends also on the phase of the cell cycle. NHEJ functions in all kinds of cells, from bacteria to man, and depends on the structure of DSB termini. In this process two DNA ends are joined directly, usually with no sequence homology, although in the case of same polarity of the single stranded overhangs in DSBs, regions of microhomology are utilized. The usage of microhomology is common in DNA end-joining of physiological DSBs, such as at the coding ends in V(D)J (variable(diversity) joining) recombination. The main components of the NHEJ system in eukaryotes are the catalytic subunit of DNA protein kinase (DNA-PK(cs)), which is recruited by DNA Ku protein, a heterodimer of Ku70 and Ku80, as well as XRCC4 protein and DNA ligase IV. A complex of Rad50/Mre11/Xrs2, a family of Sir proteins and probably other yet unidentified proteins can be also involved in this process. NHEJ and HR may play overlapping roles in the repair of DSBs produced in the S phase of the cell cycle or at replication forks. Aside from DNA repair, NHEJ may play a role in many different processes, including the maintenance of telomeres and integration of HIV-1 genome into a host genome, as well as the insertion of pseudogenes and repetitive sequences into the genome of mammalian cells. Inhibition of NHEJ can be exploited in cancer therapy in radio-sensitizing cancer cells. Identification of all key players and fundamental mechanisms underlying NHEJ still requires further research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Cisplatin / pharmacology
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA Repair / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics
  • Telomere


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cisplatin