Apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP) sites are one of the most frequent spontaneous lesions in DNA. They are potentially mutagenic and lethal lesions that can block DNA replication and transcription. In addition, cleavage of AP sites by AP endonucleases or AP lyases generates DNA single-strand breaks (SSBs) with 5'- or 3'-blocked ends, respectively. Therefore, we suggest that AP sites and 3'- or 5'-blocked SSBs, we name "honorary AP sites", constitute a single class of lesions. In this review, we describe the different mechanisms used by the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to remove or tolerate AP sites and related SSBs. In wild-type cells, AP sites are primarily repaired by the base excision repair (BER) pathway, with the nucleotide excision repair (NER) pathway as a back up activity. BER is initiated by one of the two AP endonucleases, Apn1 or Apn2. Three DNA N-glycosylases/AP lyases, Ntg1, Ntg2 and Ogg1, can also incise AP sites in DNA. Rad27, a structure specific endonuclease, is involved in the repair of 5'-blocked ends, whereas Apn1, Apn2 and Rad1-Rad10 are involved in the removal of 3'-blocked ends using their 3'-phosphodiesterase and 3'-flap endonuclease activities, respectively. AP sites can stall DNA replication forks, as well as they block in vitro DNA synthesis by DNA polymerase delta. Restart of stalled forks can occur through a recombination-associated pathway initiated by the Mus81-Mms4 endonuclease or mutagenic translesion DNA synthesis (TLS). The mutagenic bypass of AP sites is a two-polymerases affair with an inserter DNA polymerase (Poldelta, Poleta or Rev1) and an extender DNA polymerase (Polzeta). Under normal growth conditions, inactivation of Apn1, Apn2 and Rad1-Rad10 causes cell death. Therefore, the burden of spontaneous AP sites is not compatible with life, in the absence of excision repair pathways. These results in yeast demonstrate that AP sites are critical endogenous DNA damages that cause genetic instability and by analogy could be associated with degenerative pathologies in human.
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