Gene conversion tracts from double-strand break repair in mammalian cells

Mol Cell Biol. 1998 Jan;18(1):93-101. doi: 10.1128/MCB.18.1.93.


Mammalian cells are able to repair chromosomal double-strand breaks (DSBs) both by homologous recombination and by mechanisms that require little or no homology. Although spontaneous homologous recombination is rare, DSBs will stimulate recombination by 2 to 3 orders of magnitude when homology is provided either from exogenous DNA in gene-targeting experiments or from a repeated chromosomal sequence. Using a gene-targeting assay in mouse embryonic stem cells, we now investigate the effect of heterology on recombinational repair of DSBs. Cells were cotransfected with an endonuclease expression plasmid to induce chromosomal DSBs and with substrates containing up to 1.2% heterology from which to repair the DSBs. We find that heterology decreases the efficiency of recombinational repair, with 1.2% sequence divergence resulting in an approximately sixfold reduction in recombination. Gene conversion tract lengths were examined in 80 recombinants. Relatively short gene conversion tracts were observed, with 80% of the recombinants having tracts of 58 bp or less. These results suggest that chromosome ends in mammalian cells are generally protected from extensive degradation prior to recombination. Gene conversion tracts that were long (up to 511 bp) were continuous, i.e., they contained an uninterrupted incorporation of the silent mutations. This continuity suggests that these long tracts arose from extensive degradation of the ends or from formation of heteroduplex DNA which is corrected with a strong bias in the direction of the unbroken strand.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA Repair*
  • Gene Conversion*
  • Mice