The overexpression of specialized DNA polymerases in cancer

DNA Repair (Amst). 2005 May 2;4(5):583-93. doi: 10.1016/j.dnarep.2005.01.005.


Specialized DNA polymerases are required to bypass DNA damage lesions that would otherwise cause replication arrest and cell death. When operating on non-canonical templates, such as undamaged DNA or on non-cognate lesions, these polymerases exhibit considerably reduced fidelity, resulting in the generation of mutations. Ectopic overexpression of these polymerases can also lead to an increased mutation rate and an enhanced capability of DNA repair, suggesting that they could potentially act as oncogenes if they were overexpressed in cancers. Here, we examine expression patterns of DNA polymerases in matched normal and tumor samples from a diverse range of tissues. As well as investigating the specialized polymerases beta, lambda, iota and kappa, we also investigate the expression of the replicative polymerases alpha, delta and epsilon. The data presented provide evidence for the overexpression of specialized polymerases in tumors, with more than 45% of the 68 tumor samples studied demonstrating greater than two-fold enhanced expression of at least one specialized polymerase. Of particular note, DNA polymerase beta (pol beta) was found to be overexpressed at both the mRNA and protein level in approximately one third of all tumor types studied, with overexpression being particularly frequent in uterus, ovary, prostate and stomach samples. Pols lambda, and iota were also found to be overexpressed to a significant extent in a range of tumor types, albeit less frequently than pol beta. In contrast, pol kappa was rarely found to be overexpressed in tumors but was found to be commonly underexpressed in many samples. Downregulation of pol beta expression by siRNA resulted in an increased sensitivity to the chemotherapeutic agent cisplatin, suggesting a role for this polymerase in providing tolerance to cisplatin-induced damage. These observations suggest that specialised DNA polymerases, and particularly pol beta, could be considered both as caretaker genes altered during tumorigenesis, and as potential drug targets to sensitise tumors to chemotherapy.

MeSH terms

  • Cisplatin / pharmacology
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / genetics
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / metabolism*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis


  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase
  • Cisplatin