HMCES (5hmC binding, embryonic stem cell-specific-protein), originally identified as a protein capable of binding 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), an epigenetic modification generated by TET proteins, was previously reported to covalently crosslink to DNA at abasic sites via a conserved cysteine. We show here that Hmces-deficient mice display normal hematopoiesis without global alterations in 5hmC. HMCES specifically enables DNA double-strand break repair through the microhomology-mediated alternative-end-joining (Alt-EJ) pathway during class switch recombination (CSR) in B cells, and HMCES deficiency leads to a significant defect in CSR. HMCES mediates Alt-EJ through its SOS-response-associated-peptidase domain (SRAPd), a function that requires DNA binding but is independent of its autopeptidase and DNA-crosslinking activities. We show that HMCES is recruited to switch regions of the immunoglobulin locus and provide a potential structural basis for the interaction of HMCES with long DNA overhangs generated by Alt-EJ during CSR. Our studies provide further evidence for a specialized role for HMCES in DNA repair.
Keywords: DNA double-strand break (DNA DSB) repair; HMCES; TET proteins; alternative end joining; class switch recombination (CSR); oxidized methylcytosines.
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