Genome instability as a consequence of defects in the resolution of recombination intermediatesMore about Open Access at the Crick
The efficient processing of homologous recombination (HR) intermediates, which often contain four-way structures known as Holliday junctions (HJs), is required for proper chromosome segregation at mitosis. Eukaryotic cells possess three distinct pathways of resolution: (i) HJ dissolution mediated by BLM-topoisomerase IIIα-RMI1-RMI2 (BTR) complex, and HJ resolution catalyzed by either (ii) SLX1-SLX4-MUS81-EME1-XPF-ERCC1 (SMX complex) or (iii) GEN1. The BTR pathway acts at all times throughout the cell cycle, whereas the actions of SMX and GEN1 are restrained in S phase and become elevated late in the cell cycle to ensure the resolution of persistent recombination intermediates before mitotic division. By developing a "resolvase-deficient" model system in which the activities of MUS81 and GEN1 are compromised, we have explored the fate of unresolved recombination intermediates. We find that covalently linked sister chromatids promote the formation of a new class of ultrafine bridges at anaphase that we term HR-UFBs. These bridges are broken at cell division, leading to activation of the DNA damage checkpoint and repair by nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ) in the next cell cycle. As a consequence, high levels of gross chromosomal rearrangements and aberrations are observed, together with frequent cell death. These results show that the HJ resolvases provide essential functions for the resolution of recombination intermediates, even in cells that remain proficient for BTR-mediated HJ dissolution.