The mechanisms of UV mutagenesis

J Radiat Res. 2011;52(2):115-25. doi: 10.1269/jrr.10175.


Ultraviolet (UV) light induces specific mutations in the cellular and skin genome such as UV-signature and triplet mutations, the mechanism of which has been thought to involve translesion DNA synthesis (TLS) over UV-induced DNA base damage. Two models have been proposed: "error-free" bypass of deaminated cytosine-containing cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs) by DNA polymerase η, and error-prone bypass of CPDs and other UV-induced photolesions by combinations of TLS and replicative DNA polymerases--the latter model has also been known as the two-step model, in which the cooperation of two (or more) DNA polymerases as misinserters and (mis)extenders is assumed. Daylight UV induces a characteristic UV-specific mutation, a UV-signature mutation occurring preferentially at methyl-CpG sites, which is also observed frequently after exposure to either UVB or UVA, but not to UVC. The wavelengths relevant to the mutation are so consistent with the composition of daylight UV that the mutation is called solar-UV signature, highlighting the importance of this type of mutation for creatures with the cytosine-methylated genome that are exposed to the sun in the natural environment. UVA has also been suggested to induce oxidative types of mutation, which would be caused by oxidative DNA damage produced through the oxidative stress after the irradiation. Indeed, UVA produces oxidative DNA damage not only in cells but also in skin, which, however, does not seem sufficient to induce mutations in the normal skin genome. In contrast, it has been demonstrated that UVA exclusively induces the solar-UV signature mutations in vivo through CPD formation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA Repair
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mutagenesis*
  • Mutation / radiation effects*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Oxygen / chemistry
  • Pigmentation
  • Pyrimidine Dimers / genetics
  • Sunlight
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • Pyrimidine Dimers
  • DNA
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase
  • Oxygen