Mutation as a stress response and the regulation of evolvability

Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. Sep-Oct 2007;42(5):399-435. doi: 10.1080/10409230701648502.


Our concept of a stable genome is evolving to one in which genomes are plastic and responsive to environmental changes. Growing evidence shows that a variety of environmental stresses induce genomic instability in bacteria, yeast, and human cancer cells, generating occasional fitter mutants and potentially accelerating adaptive evolution. The emerging molecular mechanisms of stress-induced mutagenesis vary but share telling common components that underscore two common themes. The first is the regulation of mutagenesis in time by cellular stress responses, which promote random mutations specifically when cells are poorly adapted to their environments, i.e., when they are stressed. A second theme is the possible restriction of random mutagenesis in genomic space, achieved via coupling of mutation-generating machinery to local events such as DNA-break repair or transcription. Such localization may minimize accumulation of deleterious mutations in the genomes of rare fitter mutants, and promote local concerted evolution. Although mutagenesis induced by stresses other than direct damage to DNA was previously controversial, evidence for the existence of various stress-induced mutagenesis programs is now overwhelming and widespread. Such mechanisms probably fuel evolution of microbial pathogenesis and antibiotic-resistance, and tumor progression and chemotherapy resistance, all of which occur under stress, driven by mutations. The emerging commonalities in stress-induced-mutation mechanisms provide hope for new therapeutic interventions for all of these processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / genetics*
  • Animals
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded
  • DNA Damage
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / physiology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genomic Instability
  • Humans
  • Interspersed Repetitive Sequences
  • Mutagenesis
  • Mutation*
  • SOS Response, Genetics
  • Transcription, Genetic