Dr. Bogdan Fedeles of the Essigmann Lab publishes landmark review in DNA Repair

October 31, 2018

In a multicellular organism, somatic mutations represent a permanent record of the past chemical and biochemical perturbations experienced by a cell in its local microenvironment. Akin to a perpetual recording device, with every replication, genomic DNA accumulates mutations in patterns that reflect: i) the sequence context-dependent formation of DNA damage, due to environmental or endogenous reactive species, including spontaneous processes; ii) the activity of DNA repair pathways, which, depending on the type of lesion, can erase, ignore or exacerbate the mutagenic consequences of that DNA damage; and iii) the choice of replication machinery that synthesizes the nascent genomic copy. These three factors result in a richly contoured sequence context-dependent mutational spectrum that, from appearances, is distinct for most individual forms of DNA damage. Such a mutagenic legacy, if appropriately decoded, can reveal the local history of genome-altering events such as chemical or pathogen exposures, metabolic stress, and inflammation, which in turn can provide an indication of the underlying causes and mechanisms of genetic disease. Modern tools have positioned us to develop a deep mechanistic understanding of the cellular factors and pathways that modulate a mutational process and, in turn, provide opportunities for better diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers, better exposure risk assessment and even actionable therapeutic targets. The goal of this Perspective is to present a bottom-up, lesion-centric framework of mutagenesis that integrates the contributions of lesion replication, lesion repair and lesion formation to explain the complex mutational spectra that emerge in the genome following exposure to mutagens. The mutational spectra of the well-studied hepatocarcinogen aflatoxin B1 are showcased here as specific examples, but the implications are meant to be generalizable.