Date of Graduation


Document Type

Thesis (MS)

Program Affiliation

Molecular Carcinogenesis

Degree Name

Masters of Science (MS)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Karen M. Vasquez

Committee Member

Dr. David G. Johnson

Committee Member

Dr. David L. Mitchell

Committee Member

Dr. Feng Wang-Johanning

Committee Member

Dr. Richard D. Wood


Genetic instability in mammalian cells can occur by many different mechanisms. In the absence of exogenous sources of DNA damage, the DNA structure itself has been implicated in genetic instability. When the canonical B-DNA helix is naturally altered to form a non-canonical DNA structure such as a Z-DNA or H-DNA, this can lead to genetic instability in the form of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) (1, 2). Our laboratory found that the stability of these non-B DNA structures was different in mammals versus Escherichia coli (E.coli) bacteria (1, 2). One explanation for the difference between these species may be a result of how DSBs are repaired within each species. Non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) is primed to repair DSBs in mammalian cells, while bacteria that lack NHEJ (such as E.coli), utilize homologous recombination (HR) to repair DSBs. To investigate the role of the error-prone NHEJ repair pathway in DNA structure-induced genetic instability, E.coli cells were modified to express genes to allow for a functional NHEJ system under different HR backgrounds. The Mycobacterium tuberculosis NHEJ sufficient system is composed of Ku and Ligase D (LigD) (3). These inducible NHEJ components were expressed individually and together in E.coli cells, with or without functional HR (RecA/RecB), and the Z-DNA and H-DNA-induced mutations were characterized. The Z-DNA structure gave rise to higher mutation frequencies compared to the controls, regardless of the DSB repair pathway(s) available; however, the type of mutants produced after repair was greatly dictated on the available DSB repair system, indicated by the shift from 2% large-scale deletions in the total mutant population to 24% large-scale deletions when NHEJ was present (4). This suggests that NHEJ has a role in the large deletions induced by Z-DNA-forming sequences. H-DNA structure, however, did not exhibit an increase in mutagenesis in the newly engineered E.coli environment, suggesting the involvement of other factors in regulating H-DNA formation/stability in bacterial cells. Accurate repair by established DNA DSB repair pathways is essential to maintain the stability of eukaryotic and prokaryotic genomes and our results suggest that an error-prone NHEJ pathway was involved in non-B DNA structure-induced mutagenesis in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes.


non-B DNA, genetic instability, NHEJ



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