Molecular basis for DNA strand displacement by NHEJ repair polymerases

Edward J. Bartlett, Nigel Brissett, Przemyslaw Plocinski, Tom Carlberg, Aidan J. Doherty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) pathway repairs DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) in all domains of life. Archaea and bacteria utilize a conserved set of multifunctional proteins in a pathway termed Archaeo-Prokaryotic (AP) NHEJ that facilitates DSB repair. Archaeal NHEJ polymerases (Pol) are capable of strand displacement synthesis, whilst filling DNA gaps or partially annealed DNA ends, which can give rise to unligatable intermediates. However, an associated NHEJ phosphoesterase (PE) resects these products to ensure that efficient ligation occurs. Here, we describe the crystal structures of these archaeal (Methanocella paludicola) NHEJ nuclease and polymerase enzymes, demonstrating their strict structural conservation with their bacterial NHEJ counterparts. Structural analysis, in conjunction with biochemical studies, has uncovered the molecular basis for DNA strand displacement synthesis in AP-NHEJ, revealing the mechanisms that enable Pol and PE to displace annealed bases to facilitate their respective roles in DSB repair.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2173–2186
JournalNucleic Acids Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sep 2015

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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