DNA base excision repair (BER) is initiated by DNA glycosylases that recognize and remove damaged bases. The phosphate backbone adjacent to the resulting apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP) site is then cleaved by an AP endonuclease or glycosylase-associated AP lyase to invoke subsequent BER steps. We have used a genetic approach in Saccharomyces cerevisiae to address whether AP sites are blocks to DNA replication and the biological consequences if AP sites persist in the genome. We found that yeast cells deficient in the two AP endonucleases (apn1 apn2 double mutant) are extremely sensitive to killing by methyl methanesulfonate (MMS), a model DNA alkylating agent. Interestingly, this sensitivity can be reduced up to 2500-fold by deleting the MAG1 3-methyladenine DNA glycosylase gene, suggesting that Mag1 not only removes lethal base lesions, but also benign lesions and possibly normal bases, and that the resulting AP sites are highly toxic to the cells. This rescuing effect appears to be specific for DNA alkylation damage, since the mag1 mutation reduces killing effects of two other DNA alkylating agents, but does not alter the sensitivity of apn cells to killing by UV, gamma-ray or H(2)O(2). Our mutagenesis assays indicate that nearly half of spontaneous and almost all MMS-induced mutations in the AP endonuclease-deficient cells are due to Mag1 DNA glycosylase activity. Although the DNA replication apparatus appears to be incapable of replicating past AP sites, Polzeta-mediated translesion synthesis is able to bypass AP sites, and accounts for all spontaneous and MMS-induced mutagenesis in the AP endonuclease-deficient cells. These results allow us to delineate base lesion flow within the BER pathway and link AP sites to other DNA damage repair and tolerance pathways.
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