Replicating the entire genome is one of the most complex tasks for all organisms. Research carried out in the last few years has provided us with a clearer picture on how cells preserve genomic information from the numerous insults that may endanger its stability. Different DNA repair pathways, coping with exogenous or endogenous threat, have been dissected at the molecular level. More recently, there has been an increasing interest towards intrinsic obstacles to genome replication, paving the way to a novel view on genomic stability. Indeed, in some cases, the movement of the replication fork can be hindered by the presence of stable DNA: RNA hybrids (R-loops), the folding of G-rich sequences into G-quadruplex structures (G4s) or repetitive elements present at Common Fragile Sites (CFS). Although differing in their nature and in the way they affect the replication fork, all of these obstacles are a source of replication stress. Replication stress is one of the main hallmarks of cancer and its prevention is becoming increasingly important as a target for future chemotherapeutics. Here we will try to summarize how these three obstacles are generated and how the cells handle replication stress upon their encounter. Finally, we will consider their role in cancer and their exploitation in current chemotherapeutic approaches.
Keywords: R-loop; common fragile sites; g4 quadruplex; genome stability; replication fork.