Distinct genetic control of homologous recombination repair of Cas9-induced double-strand breaks, nicks and paired nicks

Nucleic Acids Res. 2016 Jun 20;44(11):5204-17. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkw179. Epub 2016 Mar 21.


DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are known to be powerful inducers of homologous recombination (HR), but single-strand breaks (nicks) have also been shown to trigger HR. Both DSB- and nick-induced HR ((nick)HR) are exploited in advanced genome-engineering approaches based on the bacterial RNA-guided nuclease Cas9. However, the mechanisms of (nick)HR are largely unexplored. Here, we applied Cas9 nickases to study (nick)HR in mammalian cells. We find that (nick)HR is unaffected by inhibition of major damage signaling kinases and that it is not suppressed by nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) components, arguing that nick processing does not require a DSB intermediate to trigger HR. Relative to a single nick, nicking both strands enhances HR, consistent with a DSB intermediate, even when nicks are induced up to ∼1kb apart. Accordingly, HR and NHEJ compete for repair of these paired nicks, but, surprisingly, only when 5' overhangs or blunt ends can be generated. Our study advances the understanding of molecular mechanisms driving nick and paired-nick repair in mammalian cells and clarify phenomena associated with Cas9-mediated genome editing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded*
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA End-Joining Repair
  • DNA Replication
  • Endonucleases / metabolism*
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Homologous Recombination*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Nucleotide Motifs
  • Recombinational DNA Repair*
  • Sister Chromatid Exchange


  • Endonucleases