Break-induced RNA-DNA hybrids (BIRDHs) in homologous recombination: friend or foe?

EMBO Rep. 2023 Oct 11:e57801. doi: 10.15252/embr.202357801. Online ahead of print.


Double-strand breaks (DSBs) are the most harmful DNA lesions, with a strong impact on cell proliferation and genome integrity. Depending on cell cycle stage, DSBs are preferentially repaired by non-homologous end joining or homologous recombination (HR). In recent years, numerous reports have revealed that DSBs enhance DNA-RNA hybrid formation around the break site. We call these hybrids "break-induced RNA-DNA hybrids" (BIRDHs) to differentiate them from sporadic R-loops consisting of DNA-RNA hybrids and a displaced single-strand DNA occurring co-transcriptionally in intact DNA. Here, we review and discuss the most relevant data about BIRDHs, with a focus on two main questions raised: (i) whether BIRDHs form by de novo transcription after a DSB or by a pre-existing nascent RNA in DNA regions undergoing transcription and (ii) whether they have a positive role in HR or are just obstacles to HR accidentally generated as an intrinsic risk of transcription. We aim to provide a comprehensive view of the exciting and yet unresolved questions about the source and impact of BIRDHs in the cell.

Keywords: DNA damage; DNA-RNA hybrids; DSBs; recombination; repair.

Publication types

  • Review