DNA mismatch repair (MMR) is a highly conserved mutation avoidance mechanism that corrects DNA polymerase misincorporation errors. In initial steps in MMR, Msh2-Msh6 binds mispairs and small insertion/deletion loops, and Msh2-Msh3 binds larger insertion/deletion loops. The msh2Δ1 mutation, which deletes the conserved DNA-binding domain I of Msh2, does not dramatically affect Msh2-Msh6-dependent repair. In contrast, msh2Δ1 mutants show strong defects in Msh2-Msh3 functions. Interestingly, several mutations identified in patients with hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer map to domain I of Msh2; none have been found in MSH3. To understand the role of Msh2 domain I in MMR, we examined the consequences of combining the msh2Δ1 mutation with mutations in two distinct regions of MSH6 and those that increase cellular mutational load (pol3-01 and rad27). These experiments reveal msh2Δ1-specific phenotypes in Msh2-Msh6 repair, with significant effects on mutation rates. In vitro assays demonstrate that msh2Δ1-Msh6 DNA binding is less specific for DNA mismatches and produces an altered footprint on a mismatch DNA substrate. Together, these results provide evidence that, in vivo, multiple factors insulate MMR from defects in domain I of Msh2 and provide insights into how mutations in Msh2 domain I may cause hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer.
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