DNA repair by nonhomologous end joining and homologous recombination during cell cycle in human cells

Cell Cycle. 2008 Sep 15;7(18):2902-6. doi: 10.4161/cc.7.18.6679.


DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are dangerous lesions that can lead to potentially oncogenic genomic rearrangements or cell death. The two major pathways for repair of DSBs are nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ) and homologous recombination (HR). NHEJ is an intrinsically error-prone pathway while HR results in accurate repair. To understand the origin of genomic instability in human cells it is important to know the contribution of each DSB repair pathway. Studies of rodent cells and human cancer cell lines have shown that the choice between NHEJ or HR pathways depends on cell cycle stage. Surprisingly, cell cycle regulation of DSB repair has not been examined in normal human cells with intact cell cycle checkpoints. Here we measured the efficiency of NHEJ and HR at different cell cycle stages in hTERT-immortalized diploid human fibroblasts. We utilized cells with chromosomally-integrated fluorescent reporter cassettes, in which a unique DSB is introduced by a rare-cutting endonuclease. We show that NHEJ is active throughout the cell cycle, and its activity increases as cells progress from G1 to G2/M (G1 < S < G2/M). HR is nearly absent in G1, most active in the S phase, and declines in G2/M. Thus, in G2/M NHEJ is elevated, while HR is on decline. This is in contrast to a general belief that NHEJ is most active in G1, while HR is active in S, G2 and M. The overall efficiency of NHEJ was higher than HR at all cell cycle stages. We conclude that human somatic cells utilize error-prone NHEJ as the major DSB repair pathway at all cell cycle stages, while HR is used, primarily, in the S phase.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Cycle*
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded
  • DNA Repair*
  • Fibroblasts / cytology*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Recombination, Genetic*