DNA-binding determinants promoting NHEJ by human Polμ

Nucleic Acids Res. 2012 Dec;40(22):11389-403. doi: 10.1093/nar/gks896. Epub 2012 Oct 2.


Non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ), the preferred pathway to repair double-strand breaks (DSBs) in higher eukaryotes, relies on a collection of molecular tools to process the broken ends, including specific DNA polymerases. Among them, Polµ is unique as it can catalyze DNA synthesis upon connection of two non-complementary ends. Here, we demonstrate that this capacity is intrinsic to Polµ, not conferred by other NHEJ factors. To understand the molecular determinants of its specific function in NHEJ, the interaction of human Polµ with DNA has been directly visualized by electromobility shift assay and footprinting assays. Stable interaction with a DNA gap requires the presence of a recessive 5'-P, thus orienting the catalytic domain for primer and nucleotide binding. Accordingly, recognition of the 5'-P is crucial to align the two DNA substrates of the NHEJ reaction. Site-directed mutagenesis demonstrates the relevance of three specific residues (Lys(249), Arg(253) and Arg(416)) in stabilizing the primer strand during end synapsis, allowing a range of microhomology-induced distortions beneficial for NHEJ. Moreover, our results suggest that the Polµ BRCT domain, thought to be exclusively involved in interaction with NHEJ core factors, has a direct role in binding the DNA region neighbor to the 5'-P, thus boosting Polµ-mediated NHEJ reactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA / chemistry*
  • DNA / metabolism
  • DNA End-Joining Repair*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / chemistry*
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / genetics
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Ligands
  • DNA
  • DNA polymerase mu
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase