Mechanisms of ectopic gene conversion

Genes (Basel). 2010 Nov 29;1(3):427-39. doi: 10.3390/genes1030427.


Gene conversion (conversion), the unidirectional transfer of DNA sequence information, occurs as a byproduct of recombinational repair of broken or damaged DNA molecules. Whereas excision repair processes replace damaged DNA by copying the complementary sequence from the undamaged strand of duplex DNA, recombinational mechanisms copy similar sequence, usually in another molecule, to replace the damaged sequence. In mitotic cells, the other molecule is usually a sister chromatid, and the repair does not lead to genetic change. Less often a homologous chromosome or homologous sequence in an ectopic position is used. Conversion results from repair in two ways. First, if there was a double-strand gap at the site of a break, homologous sequence will be used as the template for synthesis to fill the gap, thus transferring sequence information in both strands. Second, recombinational repair uses complementary base pairing, and the heteroduplex molecule formed is a source of conversion, both as heteroduplex and when donor (undamaged template) information is retained after correction of mismatched bases in heteroduplex. There are mechanisms that favor the use of sister molecules that must fail before ectopic homology can be used. Meiotic recombination events lead to the formation of crossovers required in meiosis for orderly segregation of pairs of homologous chromosomes. These events result from recombinational repair of programmed double-strand breaks, but in contrast with mitotic recombination, meiotic recombinational events occur predominantly between homologous chromosomes, so that transfer of sequence differences by conversion is very frequent. Transient recombination events that do not form crossovers form both between homologous chromosomes and between regions of ectopic homology, and leave their mark in the occurrence of frequent non-crossover conversion, including ectopic conversion.

Keywords: BIR; SDSA; cohesin; crossover; double-strand break; ectopic gene conversion; gene conversion; mismatch repair; recombination; synaptonemal complex.