Comparison of nonhomologous end joining and homologous recombination in human cells

DNA Repair (Amst). 2008 Oct 1;7(10):1765-71. doi: 10.1016/j.dnarep.2008.06.018. Epub 2008 Aug 20.


The two major pathways for repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are homologous recombination (HR) and nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ). HR leads to accurate repair, while NHEJ is intrinsically mutagenic. To understand human somatic mutation it is essential to know the relationship between these pathways in human cells. Here we provide a comparison of the kinetics and relative contributions of HR and NHEJ in normal human cells. We used chromosomally integrated fluorescent reporter substrates for real-time in vivo monitoring of the NHEJ and HR. By examining multiple integrated clones we show that the efficiency of NHEJ and HR is strongly influenced by chromosomal location. Furthermore, we show that NHEJ of compatible ends (NHEJ-C) and NHEJ of incompatible ends (NHEJ-I) are fast processes, which can be completed in approximately 30 min, while HR is much slower and takes 7h or longer to complete. In actively cycling cells NHEJ-C is twice as efficient as NHEJ-I, and NHEJ-I is three times more efficient than HR. Our results suggest that NHEJ is a faster and more efficient DSB repair pathway than HR.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Chromosomes, Human / metabolism
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Humans
  • Recombination, Genetic*