Oxidative damage to DNA appears to be a factor in cancer, yet explanations for why highly elevated levels of such lesions do not always result in cancer remain elusive. Much of the genome is non-coding and lesions in these regions might be expected to have little biological effect, an inference supported by observations that there is preferential repair of coding sequences. RNA has an important coding function in protein synthesis, and yet the consequences of RNA oxidation are largely unknown. Some non-coding nucleic acid is functional, e.g. promoters, and damage to these sequences may well have biological consequences. Similarly, oxidative damage to DNA may promote microsatellite instability, inhibit methylation and accelerate telomere shortening. DNA repair appears pivotal to the maintenance of genome integrity, and genetic alterations in repair capacity, due to single nucleotide polymorphisms or mutation, may account for inter-individual differences in cancer susceptibility. This review will survey these aspects of oxidative damage to nucleic acids and their implication for disease.
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