DNA double-stranded breaks (DSBs) are lethal if not repaired and are highly mutagenic if misrepaired. Nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ) is one of the major DSB repair pathways and can rejoin the DSB ends either precisely or with mistakes. Recent evidence suggests the existence of two NHEJ subpathways: conservative NHEJ (C-NHEJ), which does not require microhomology and can join ends precisely; and deletional NHEJ (D-NHEJ), which utilizes microhomology to join the ends with small deletions. Little is known about how these NHEJ subpathways are regulated. Mre11 has been implicated in DNA damage response, thus we investigated whether Mre11 function also extended to NHEJ. We utilized an intrachromosomal NHEJ substrate in which DSBs are generated by the I-SceI to address this question. The cohesive ends are fully complementary and were either repaired by C-NHEJ or D-NHEJ with similar efficiency. We found that disruption of Mre11 by RNA interference in human cells led to a 10-fold decrease in the frequency of D-NHEJ compared with cells with functional Mre11. Interestingly, C-NHEJ was not affected by Mre11 status. Expression of wild type but not exonuclease-defective Mre11 mutants was able to rescue D-NHEJ in Mre11-deficient cells. Further mutational analysis suggested that additional mechanisms associated with methylation of Mre11 at the C-terminal glycine-arginine-rich domain contributed to the promotion of D-NHEJ by Mre11. This study provides new insights into the mechanisms by which Mre11 affects the accuracy of DSB end joining specifically through control of the D-NHEJ subpathway, thus illustrating the complexity of the Mre11 role in maintaining genomic stability.
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