DNA non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) and homologous recombination (HR) represent the major DNA double strand break (DSB) pathways in mammalian cells, whilst ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) lies at the core of the DSB signalling response. ATM signalling plays a major role in modifying chromatin structure in the vicinity of the DSB and increasing evidence suggests that this function influences the DSB rejoining process. DSBs have long been known to be repaired with two (or more) component kinetics. The majority (∼85%) of DSBs are repaired with fast kinetics in a predominantly ATM-independent manner. In contrast, ∼15% of radiation-induced DSBs are repaired with markedly slower kinetics via a process that requires ATM and those mediator proteins, such as MDC1 or 53BP1, that accumulate at ionising radiation induced foci (IRIF). DSBs repaired with slow kinetics predominantly localise to the periphery of genomic heterochromatin (HC). Indeed, there is mounting evidence that chromatin complexity and not damage complexity confers slow DSB repair kinetics. ATM's role in HC-DSB repair involves the direct phosphorylation of KAP-1, a key HC formation factor. KAP-1 phosphorylation (pKAP-1) arises in both a pan-nuclear and a focal manner after radiation and ATM-dependent pKAP-1 is essential for DSB repair within HC regions. Mediator proteins such as 53BP1, which are also essential for HC-DSB repair, are expendable for pan-nuclear pKAP-1 whilst being essential for pKAP-1 formation at IRIF. Data suggests that the essential function of the mediator proteins is to promote the retention of activated ATM at DSBs, concentrating the phosphorylation of KAP-1 at HC DSBs. DSBs arising in G2 phase are also repaired with fast and slow kinetics but, in contrast to G0/G1 where they all DSBs are repaired by NHEJ, the slow component of DSB repair in G2 phase represents an HR process involving the Artemis endonuclease. Results suggest that whilst NHEJ repairs the majority of DSBs in G2 phase, Artemis-dependent HR uniquely repairs HC DSBs. Collectively, these recent studies highlight not only how chromatin complexity influences the factors required for DSB repair but also the pathway choice.
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