Patching Broken DNA: Nucleosome Dynamics and the Repair of DNA Breaks

J Mol Biol. 2016 May 8;428(9 Pt B):1846-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2015.11.021. Epub 2015 Nov 26.


The ability of cells to detect and repair DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) is dependent on reorganization of the surrounding chromatin structure by chromatin remodeling complexes. These complexes promote access to the site of DNA damage, facilitate processing of the damaged DNA and, importantly, are essential to repackage the repaired DNA. Here, we will review the chromatin remodeling steps that occur immediately after DSB production and that prepare the damaged chromatin template for processing by the DSB repair machinery. DSBs promote rapid accumulation of repressive complexes, including HP1, the NuRD complex, H2A.Z and histone methyltransferases at the DSB. This shift to a repressive chromatin organization may be important to inhibit local transcription and limit mobility of the break and to maintain the DNA ends in close contact. Subsequently, the repressive chromatin is rapidly dismantled through a mechanism involving dynamic exchange of the histone variant H2A.Z. H2A.Z removal at DSBs alters the acidic patch on the nucleosome surface, promoting acetylation of the H4 tail (by the NuA4-Tip60 complex) and shifting the chromatin to a more open structure. Further, H2A.Z removal promotes chromatin ubiquitination and recruitment of additional DSB repair proteins to the break. Modulation of the nucleosome surface and nucleosome function during DSB repair therefore plays a vital role in processing of DNA breaks. Further, the nucleosome surface may function as a central hub during DSB repair, directing specific patterns of histone modification, recruiting DNA repair proteins and modulating chromatin packing during processing of the damaged DNA template.

Keywords: DNA damage; DSB repair; H2A.Z; NuA4-Tip60; chromatin remodeling.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Chromatin Assembly and Disassembly
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded*
  • DNA Repair Enzymes / metabolism*
  • DNA Repair*
  • Models, Biological
  • Multienzyme Complexes / metabolism*
  • Nucleosomes / chemistry*
  • Nucleosomes / metabolism*


  • Multienzyme Complexes
  • Nucleosomes
  • DNA Repair Enzymes