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Ionising radiation induces clustered DNA damage sites which pose a severe challenge to the cell's repair machinery, particularly base excision repair. To date, most studies have focussed on two-lesion clusters. We have designed synthetic oligonucleotides to give a variety of three-lesion clusters containing abasic sites and 8-oxo-7, 8-dihydroguanine to investigate if the hierarchy of lesion processing dictates whether the cluster is cytotoxic or mutagenic. Clusters containing two tandem 8-oxoG lesions opposing an AP site showed retardation of repair of the AP site with nuclear extract and an elevated mutation frequency after transformation into wild-type or mutY Escherichia coli. Clusters containing bistranded AP sites with a vicinal 8-oxoG form DSBs with nuclear extract, as confirmed in vivo by transformation into wild-type E. coli. Using ung1 E. coli, we propose that DSBs arise via lesion processing rather than stalled replication in cycling cells. This study provides evidence that it is not only the prompt formation of DSBs that has implications on cell survival but also the conversion of non-DSB clusters into DSBs during processing and attempted repair. The inaccurate repair of such clusters has biological significance due to the ultimate risk of tumourigenesis or as potential cytotoxic lesions in tumour cells.

Original publication




Journal article


Nucleic Acids Res

Publication Date





1123 - 1134


DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded, DNA Damage, DNA Repair, Escherichia coli, Guanine, Mutagenesis, Mutation, Uracil