DNA end joining becomes less efficient and more error-prone during cellular senescence

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 May 18;101(20):7624-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0400726101. Epub 2004 Apr 28.


Accumulation of somatic mutations is thought to contribute to the aging process. Genomic instability has been shown to increase during aging, suggesting an aberrant function of DNA double-strand break (DSB) repair. Surprisingly, DSB repair has not been examined with respect to cellular senescence. Therefore, we have studied the ability of young, presenescent, and senescent normal human fibroblasts to repair DSBs in transfected DNA by using a fluorescent reporter substrate. We have found that the efficiency of end joining is reduced up to 4.5 fold in presenescent and senescent cells, relative to young cells. Sequence analysis of end junctions showed that the frequency of precise ligation was higher in young cells, whereas end joining in old cells was associated with extended deletions. These results indicate that end joining becomes inefficient and more error-prone during cellular senescence. Furthermore, the ability to use microhomologies for end joining was compromised in senescent cells, suggesting that young and senescent cells may use different end joining pathways. We hypothesize that inefficient and aberrant end joining is a likely mechanism underlying the age-related genomic instability and higher incidence of cancer in the elderly.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cellular Senescence / physiology*
  • DNA / metabolism*
  • DNA Repair / physiology*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Genomic Instability / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mutation / physiology*
  • Sequence Deletion / physiology


  • DNA