DNA damage, malfunctions in DNA repair, and genomic instability are processes that intersect at the crossroads of carcinogenesis. Underscoring the importance of DNA repair in breast and ovarian tumorigenesis is the familial inherited cancer predisposition gene BRCA2. The role of BRCA2 in DNA double-strand break repair was first revealed based on its interaction with RAD51, a central player in homologous recombination. The RAD51 protein forms a nucleoprotein filament on single-stranded DNA, invades a DNA duplex, and initiates a search for homology. Once a homologous DNA sequence is found, the DNA is used as a template for the high-fidelity repair of the DNA break. Many of the biochemical features that allow BRCA2 to choreograph the activities of RAD51 have been elucidated and include: targeting RAD51 to single-stranded DNA while inhibiting binding to dsDNA, reducing the ATPase activity of RAD51, and facilitating the displacement of the single-strand DNA binding protein, Replication Protein A. These reinforcing activities of BRCA2 culminate in the correct positioning of RAD51 onto a processed DNA double-strand break and initiate its faithful repair by homologous recombination. In this review, I will address current biochemical data concerning the BRCA2 protein and highlight unanswered questions regarding BRCA2 function in homologous recombination and cancer.
Keywords: BRCA2; DNA repair; RAD51; breast cancer; homologous recombination; ovarian cancer.