Mammalian nucleotide excision repair is the primary enzymatic pathway for removing bulky lesions from DNA. The repair reaction involves three main steps: (i) dual incisions on both sides of the lesion; (ii) excision of the damaged base in an oligonucleotide 24-31 nt in length; (iii) filling in of the post-excision gap and ligation. We have developed assays that probe the individual steps of the reaction. Using these methods (assays for incision, excision and repair patch synthesis), we demonstrate that the mammalian excision nuclease system removes bulky lesions by incising mainly at the 22nd-25th phosphodiester bonds 5' and the 3rd-5th phosphodiester bonds 3' of the lesion, thus releasing oligonucleotides primarily 26-29 nt in length. The resulting excision gap is filled in by DNA polymerases δ and ε as revealed by the 'phosphorothioate repair patch assay'. When these assays were employed with cell-free extracts from the moderately UV-sensitive rodent mutants in complementation groups 6-10, we found that these mutants are essentially normal in all three steps of the repair reaction. This leads us to conclude that these cell lines have normal in vitro repair activities and that the defects in these mutants are most likely in genes controlling cellular functions not directly involved in general excision repair.
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