The recent advances in non-homologous end-joining through the lens of lymphocyte development

DNA Repair (Amst). 2020 Oct:94:102874. doi: 10.1016/j.dnarep.2020.102874. Epub 2020 Jun 25.


Lymphocyte development requires ordered assembly and subsequent modifications of the antigen receptor genes through V(D)J recombination and Immunoglobulin class switch recombination (CSR), respectively. While the programmed DNA cleavage events are initiated by lymphocyte-specific factors, the resulting DNA double-strand break (DSB) intermediates activate the ATM kinase-mediated DNA damage response (DDR) and rely on the ubiquitously expressed classical non-homologous end-joining (cNHEJ) pathway including the DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK), and, in the case of CSR, also the alternative end-joining (Alt-EJ) pathway, for repair. Correspondingly, patients and animal models with cNHEJ or DDR defects develop distinct types of immunodeficiency reflecting their specific DNA repair deficiency. The unique end-structure, sequence context, and cell cycle regulation of V(D)J recombination and CSR also provide a valuable platform to study the mechanisms of, and the interplay between, cNHEJ and DDR. Here, we compare and contrast the genetic consequences of DNA repair defects in V(D)J recombination and CSR with a focus on the newly discovered cNHEJ factors and the kinase-dependent structural roles of ATM and DNA-PK in animal models. Throughout, we try to highlight the pending questions and emerging differences that will extend our understanding of cNHEJ and DDR in the context of primary immunodeficiency and lymphoid malignancies.

Keywords: ATM; Class switch recombination; DNA-PK; Non-homologous end-joining; V(D)J recombination.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins / metabolism
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • B-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • DNA End-Joining Repair*
  • DNA-Activated Protein Kinase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin Class Switching*
  • V(D)J Recombination*


  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • DNA-Activated Protein Kinase