Journal Article

Homologous recombination in cancer development, treatment and development of drug resistance

Thomas Helleday

in Carcinogenesis

Volume 31, issue 6, pages 955-960
Published in print June 2010 | ISSN: 0143-3334
Published online March 2010 | e-ISSN: 1460-2180 | DOI:
Homologous recombination in cancer development, treatment and development of drug resistance

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Although DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are substrates for homologous recombination (HR) repair, it is becoming apparent that DNA lesions produced at replication forks, for instance by many anticancer drugs, are more significant substrates for HR repair. Cells defective in HR are hypersensitive to a wide variety of anticancer drugs, including those that do not produce DSBs. Several cancers have mutations in or epigenetically silenced HR genes, which explain the genetic instability that drives cancer development. There are an increasing number of reports suggesting that mutation or epigenetic silencing of HR genes explains the sensitivity of cancers to current chemotherapy treatments. Furthermore, there are also many examples of re-expression of HR genes in tumours to explain drug resistance. Emerging data suggest that there are several different subpathways of HR, which can compensate for each other. Unravelling the overlapping pathways in HR showed that BRCA1- and BRCA2-defective cells rely on the PARP protein for survival. This synthetic lethal interaction is now being exploited for selective treatment of BRCA1- and BRCA2-defective cancers with PARP inhibitors. Here, I discuss the diversity of HR and how it impacts on cancer with a particular focus on how HR can be exploited in future anticancer strategies.

Journal Article.  4342 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Clinical Cytogenetics and Molecular Genetics

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