Nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) is a major repair pathway for DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), involving synapsis and ligation of the broken strands. We describe the use of in vivo and in vitro single-molecule methods to define the organization and interaction of NHEJ repair proteins at DSB ends. Super-resolution fluorescence microscopy allowed the precise visualization of XRCC4, XLF, and DNA ligase IV filaments adjacent to DSBs, which bridge the broken chromosome and direct rejoining. We show, by single-molecule FRET analysis of the Ku/XRCC4/XLF/DNA ligase IV NHEJ ligation complex, that end-to-end synapsis involves a dynamic positioning of the two ends relative to one another. Our observations form the basis of a new model for NHEJ that describes the mechanism whereby filament-forming proteins bridge DNA DSBs in vivo. In this scheme, the filaments at either end of the DSB interact dynamically to achieve optimal configuration and end-to-end positioning and ligation.
Keywords: DNA repair; genomic integrity; nonhomologous end-joining; single-molecule FRET; super-resolution microscopy.