Relationship: 1910



N/A, Inadequate DNA repair leads to Increase, DNA strand breaks

Upstream event


N/A, Inadequate DNA repair

Downstream event


Increase, DNA strand breaks

Key Event Relationship Overview


AOPs Referencing Relationship


AOP Name Adjacency Weight of Evidence Quantitative Understanding
Oxidative DNA damage leading to chromosomal aberrations and mutations adjacent High Low
Alkylation of DNA leading to reduced sperm count adjacent

Taxonomic Applicability


Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
human Homo sapiens NCBI
mouse Mus musculus NCBI
rat Rattus norvegicus NCBI

Sex Applicability


Sex Evidence

Life Stage Applicability


Term Evidence
All life stages

Key Event Relationship Description


Inadequate repair of DNA damage includes incorrect repair (i.e., incorrect base insertion), incomplete repair (i.e., accumulation of repair intermediates such as strand breaks, stalled replications forks, and/or abasic sites), and absent repair resulting in the retention of DNA damage.

It is well-established that DNA excision repair pathways require DNA strand breakage for removing the damaged sites; for example, base excision repair (BER) of oxidative lesions involves removal of oxidized bases by glycosylases followed by cleavage of the DNA strand 5’ from the abasic site. If the repair process is disrupted at this point, repair intermediates including single strand breaks (SSB) may persist in the DNA. A SSB can turn into a double strand break (DSB) if it occurs sufficiently close to another SSB on the opposite strand. SSBs can be converted into DSBs when helicase unwinds the DNA strands during replication. Furthermore, SSBs and abasic sites can act as replication blocks causing the replication fork to stall and collapse, giving rise to DSBs (Minko et al., 2016; Whitaker et al., 2017).

The two most common DSB repair mechanisms are non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) and homologous recombination (HR). NHEJ is may favoured over HR and has also been shown to be 104 times more efficient than HR in repairing DSBs (Godwin et al., 1994; Benjamin and Little, 1992). There are two subtypes of NHEJ: canonical NHEJ (C‐NHEJ) or alternative non-homologous end joining (alt-NHEJ). During C-NHEJ, broken ends of DNA are simply ligated together. In alt‐NHEJ, one strand of the DNA on either side of the break is resected to repair the lesion (Betermeir et al., 2014). Although both repair mechanisms are error‐prone (Thurtle‐Schmidt and Lo, 2018), alt-NHEJ is considered more error-prone than C-NHEJ (Guirouil-Barbat et al., 2007; Simsek and Jasin, 2010). While NHEJ may prevent cell death due to the cytotoxicity of DSBs, it may lead to mutations and genomic instability downstream.  

Evidence Supporting this KER


Biological Plausibility


1. DNA strand breaks generated due to faulty attempted repair

Excision repair pathways require the induction of SSB as part of damage processing. Increases in DNA lesions may lead to the accumulation of intermediate SSB. Attempted excision repair of lesions on opposite strands can turn into DSBs if the two are in close proximity (Eccles et al., 2010). Generation of DSBs has been observed in both nucleotide excision repair (NER) and BER (Ma et al., 2009; Wakasugi et al., 2014).

Previous studies have demonstrated that an imbalance in one of the multiple steps of BER can lead to an accumulation of repair intermediates and failed repair. It is highly likely that a disproportionate increase in oxidative DNA lesions compared to the level of available BER glycosylases leads to an imbalance between lesions and the initiating step of BER (Brenerman et al., 2014). Accumulation of oxidative lesions, abasic sites, and SSBs generated from OGG1, NTH1, and APE1 activities would be observed as a result. Moreover, studies have reported accumulation of SSB due to OGG1- and NHT1-overexpression (Yang et al., 2004; Yoshikawa et al., 2015; Wang et al., 2018). BER repair intermediates have been observed to interfere with transcription as well (Kitsera et al., 2011). While overexpression may lead to imbalanced lyase activities that generate excessive SSB intermediates, deficiency of these enzymes is also known to cause an accumulation of oxidative lesions that could lead to strand breaks downstream. Hence, both the overexpression and deficiencies of repair enzymes can lead to strand breaks due to excessive activity or inadequate repair, respectively.

2. DNA strand breaks generated due to replication stress caused by accumulated DNA lesions

Retention of DNA lesions (i.e., damaged bases and SSB) can interfere with the progression of the replication fork. Thymidine glycol is an example of an oxidative DNA lesion that acts as a replication block (Dolinnaya et al., 2013). Persistent replication fork stalling and dissociation of replication machinery are known to cause the replication fork to collapse, which generates highly toxic DSBs (Zeman and Cimprich, 2014; Alexander and Orr-Weaver, 2016). Fork stalling also increases the risk of two replication forks colliding with each other, generating DSBs.

In addition, the replication fork can collide with SSBs generated during BER, hindering the completion of repair and giving rise to DSBs (Ensminger et al., 2014).


Empirical Evidence


In vitro studies with empirical evidence are shown below for select DNA repair pathways. These studies build in elements of essentiality (modulation of DNA repair), as well as dose and incidence concordance. The primary evidence is essentiality, where repair is genetically modulated in some way. Because multiple lines of evidence are considered within individual studies, we present the data by source of evidence (in vitro versus in vivo) rather than by type of empirical evidence (dose, incidence, or temporal concordance; essentiality) to avoid repetitive use of the same studies.


Inadequate repair of oxidative lesions

  • Concentration concordance of strand breaks in repair-deficient and –proficient cells (insufficient repair) (Wu et al., 2008)
    • In a study using A549 human adenocarcinoma cells, DNA strand breaks in hOGG1-proficient and hOGG1-deficient cells were compared following exposure to increasing concentrations of bleomycin.
    • Strand breaks were measured as DNA migration length in alkaline comet assay after 3 hours of exposure to six increasing concentrations (0.05, 0.25, 0.5, 1, 5, and 10 mg/L).
    • Concentration-dependent increase in strand breaks was observed in both cell types; however, at all concentrations significantly more strand breaks (p<0.05) were present in the hOGG1-deficient cells than in the proficient cells, demonstrating insufficient repair of oxidative lesions leading to DNA strand breaks.
    • Thus, this evidence supports the essentiality of inadequate DNA repair as a modulator of the downstream KE.
  • Incomplete OGG1-initiated base excision repair (BER) leads to DNA strand breaks (Wang et al., 2018):
    • In a study using mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEF), Ogg1+/+ and Ogg1-/- cells were treated with increasing concentrations of H2O2 for varying durations
    • Higher levels of 8-oxodG were detected in Ogg1-/- cells compared to Ogg1+/+ cells after treatment with 400 µM H2O2 at all time points (5, 15, 30, 60, and 90 min)
      • Demonstrates insufficient removal of 8-oxo-dG in OGG1-deficient cells
    • Significantly higher % of TUNEL-positive cells (p<0.001) were detected in Ogg1+/+ cells compared to Ogg1-/- cells after exposure to 400 µM H2O2 for 3 hours
      • Both cell types showed a very similar increase in DNA strand breaks at lower concentrations (50, 100, and 200 µM) and there was no significant difference between Ogg1+/+ and Ogg1-/- cells at these concentrations – this suggests that up to a certain level of oxidative damage, OGG1-initiated BER does not exacerbate strand breaks but when oxidative stress is excessive (at 400µM in this study), OGG1-initiated BER is compromised and leads to increased strand breaks (incomplete repair)
    • Finally, DNA strand breaks in both cell types were measured using both alkaline and neutral comet assay after a 30-minute exposure to 400µM H2O2; while there was an increase in the olive tail moment (indicating DNA strand breaks) in both cell types compared to the control, the increase of strand breaks in Ogg1+/+ cells was significantly larger than in Ogg1-/- cells in both assays (p<0.001)


Inadequate repair of alkylated DNA

  • Interference of N-methylpurine DNA glycosylase (MPG)-initiated BER by replication leading to strand breaks (Ensminger et al., 2014)
    • A549 human alveolar basal epithelial cells were exposed to increasing concentrations of methylmethane sulfonate (MMS) for 1 hour and replicating cells were labeled using a thymidine analogue, 5-ethynyl-2’-desoxyuridine (EdU).
    • In S-phase cells, MMS concentration-dependent increase in γH2AX foci was detected (70 foci/cell at the highest concentration). In contrast, γH2AX foci were not detected G1- and G2-phase cells until the highest concentration (15 foci/cell).
    • MPG-depleted cells in S-phase showed no significant increase in γH2AX foci, while the control cells showed significant MMS concentration-dependent increases.
    • These results suggest interference of MPG-initiated BER by replication, leading to DSBs, and that the depletion of MPG decreases the probability of strand breaks in S-phase (evidence of essentiality of ‘inadequate repair’ to KEdown). 


Inadequate mismatch repair

  • Incomplete/incorrect mismatch repair (MMR) leads to DNA strand breaks (Peterson-Roth et al., 2005):
    • MLH1 (MMR protein)-deficient and -proficient HCT116 human colon cancer cells were treated with 30µM K2CrO4 (DNA crosslinking, Cr adducts, protein-DNA crosslinking, DNA oxidation) for 3, 6, and 12 hours and γH2AX foci (biomarker of DNA DSB) were scored by fluorescence microscopy
    • At 6 and 12 hours, MLH1+ cells had higher percentage of γH2AX foci than MLH1- cells
    • The futile repair model of MMR suggests that strand breaks arise from MMR attempting repeatedly to repair the newly synthesized strand opposite adducts in S and G2 phases; approximately 80% of the γH2AX-positive MLH1+ cells were in G2 phase 12 hours after a 3-hour exposure to 20 µM Cr(VI), while the level was five times lower in MLH1- cells, suggesting that the MMR-induced DSB occurred following DNA synthesis; this supports the futile repair model and demonstrates inadequate repair


Inadequate Repair of DSBs

  • Rydberg et al. [2005] exposed GM38 primary human dermal fibroblasts to increasing doses of linear electron transfer (LET) radiation of helium and iron ions (Rydberg et al., 2005).
    • The cells were allowed to recover for 16 hours following irradiation.
    • Unrepaired DSBs were measured after recovery using PFGE.
    • There was a dose-dependent increase in unrepaired DSBs due to both ion exposures.
    • Increase in persistent unrepaired DSBs with increasing dosage indicates exceeded repair capacity.
  • Rothkamm and Löbrich [2003] exposed MRC-5 primary human lung fibroblasts (repair-proficient) and 180BR DNA ligase IV-deficient human fibroblasts to 10 and 80 Gy of X-rays (Rothkamm and Lobrich, 2003).
    • DNA ligase IV deficiency results in impaired NHEJ
    • DSB repair was monitored using PFGE by measuring the % of DSBs remaining after 0.25, 2, and 24 h following irradiation.
    • DSBs decreased over time and, eventually, less than 10% of the DSBs remained in MRC-5 cells after 24h following both 80 and 10 Gy exposures.
    • Repair was noticeably slower in 180BR cells, where the clearance of DSBs was hindered and approximately 40 and 20% of the DSBs remained at 24 hours following 80 and 10 Gy exposures, respectively.
    • The above demonstrates defective DNA repair leading to persistent DSBs.


Uncertainties and Inconsistencies


  • A variety of confounding factors and genetic characteristics (i.e., SNPs) may modulate which repair pathways are invoked and the degree to which they are inadequate. These have yet to be fully defined.
  • Both protective and damaging effects of OGG1 against strand breaks have been described in the literature. As demonstrated in the section above, the effect of OGG1-deficiency (BER-initiating enzyme) is observed to be different in different cell types; Wang et al. (2018) demonstrated strand breaks exacerbated by excessive OGG1 activity, while Wu et al. (2008) and Shah et al. (2018) demonstrated increased strand breaks due to lack of repair in mammalian cells in culture (Shah et al., 2018; Wu et al., 2008; Wang et al., 2018). Cell cycle and replication may influence the effect of DNA repair on exacerbating strand breaks. 
  • Dahle et al. (2008) exposed wild type and OGG1-overexpressing Chinese hamster ovary cells, AS52, to UVA. While OGG1-overexpression prevented the accumulation of Fpg-sensitive lesions (e.g., 8-oxo-dG and FaPyG) that were observed in wild type cells 4 hours after irradiation, there was no difference in the amount of strand breaks in the two cell types at 4h (Dahle et al., 2008)
  • A recent study suggests that the NHEJ may be more accurate than previously thought (reviewed in Betermier et al., 2014). The accuracy of NHEJ may be dependent on the structure of the termini. The termini processing rather than the NHEJ itself is thus argued to be error-prone process (Betemier et al., 2014).

Quantitative Understanding of the Linkage


Response-response Relationship




Known modulating factors


Known Feedforward/Feedback loops influencing this KER


Domain of Applicability


This KER applies to any cell type that has DNA repair capabilities.



Alexander, J., Orr-Weaver, T. (2016), Replication fork instability and the consequences of fork collisions from rereplication, Genes Dev, 30:2241-2252.

Brenerman, B., Illuzzi, J., Wilson III, D. (2014), Base excision repair capacity in informing healthspan, Carcinogenesis, 35:2643-2652.

Dahle, J., Brunborg, G., Svendsrud, D., Stokke, T., Kvam, E. (2008), Overexpression of human OGG1 in mammalian cells decreases ultraviolet A induced mutagenesis, Cancer Lett, 267:18-25.

Dolinnaya, N., Kubareva, E., Romanova, E., Trikin, R., Oretskaya, T. (2013), Thymidine glycol: the effect on DNA molecular structure and enzymatic processing, Biochimie, 95:134-147.

Eccles, L., Lomax, M., O’Neill, P. (2010), Hierarchy of lesion processing governs the repair, double-strand break formation and mutability of three-lesion clustered DNA damage, Nucleic Acids Res, 38:1123-1134.

Ensminger, M., Iloff, L., Ebel, C., Nikolova, T., Kaina, B., Lobrich, M. (2014), DNA breaks and chromosomal aberrations arise when replication meets base excision repair, J Cell Biol, 206:29.

Kitsera, N., Stathis, D., Luhnsdorf, B., Muller, H., Carell, T., Epe, B., Khobta, A. (2011), 8-Oxo-7,8-dihydroguanine in DNA does not constitute a barrier to transcription, but is converted into transcription-blocking damage by OGG1, Nucleic Acids Res, 38:5926-5934.

Ma, W., Panduri, V., Sterling, J., Van Houten, B., Gordenin, D., Resnick, M. (2009), The Transition of Closely Opposed Lesions to Double-Strand Breaks during Long-Patch Base Excision Repair Is Prevented by the Coordinated Action of DNA Polymerase  and Rad27/Fen1  , Mol Cell Biol, 29:1212-1221.

Minko, I., Jacobs, A., de Leon, A., Gruppi, F., Donley, N., Harris, T., Rizzo, C., McCullough, A., Lloyd, R.S. (2016), Catalysts of DNA Strand Cleavage at Apurinic/Apyrimidinic Sites, Sci Rep, 6.

Peterson-Roth, E., Reynolds, M., Quievryn, G., Zhitkovich, A. (2005), Mismatch Repair Proteins Are Activators of Toxic Responses to Chromium-DNA Damage, Mol Cell Biol, 25:3596-3607.

Rothkamm, K., Lobrich, M. (2003), Evidence for a lack of DNA double-strand break repair in human cells exposed to very low x-ray doses, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 100:5057-5062.

Rydberg, B., Cooper, B., Cooper, P., Holley, W., Chatterjee, A. (2005), Dose-Dependent Misrejoining of Radiation-Induced DNA Double-Strand Breaks in Human Fibroblasts: Experimental and Theoretical Study for High- and Low-LET Radiation, Radiat Res, 163:526-534.

Shah, A., Gray, K., Figg, N., Finigan, A., Starks, L., Bennett, M. (2018), . Defective Base Excision Repair of Oxidative DNA Damage in Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells Promotes Atherosclerosis, Circulation, 138:1446-1462.

Wakasugi, M., Sasaki, T., Matsumoto, M., Nagaoka, M., Inoue, K., Inobe, M., Horibata, K., Tanaka, K., Matsunaga, T. (2014), Nucleotide Excision Repair-dependent DNA Double-strand Break Formation and ATM Signaling Activation in Mammalian Quiescent Cells, J Biol Chem, 289:28730-28737.

Wang, R., Li, C., Qiao, P., Xue, Y., Zheng, X., Chen, H., Zeng, X., Liu, W., Boldogh, I., Ba, X. (2018), OGG1-initiated base excision repair exacerbates oxidative stress-induced parthanatos, Cell Death and Disease, 9:628.

Whitaker, A., Schaich, M., Smith, M.S., Flynn, T., Freudenthal, B. (2017), Base excision repair of oxidative DNA damage: from mechanism to disease, Front Biosci, 22:1493-1522.

Wu, M., Zhang, Z., Che, W. (2008), Suppression of a DNA base excision repair gene, hOGG1, increases bleomycin sensitivity of human lung cancer cell line, Toxicol App Pharmacol, 228:395-402.

Yang, N., Galick, H., Wallace, S. (2004), Attempted base excision repair of ionizing radiation damage in human lymphoblastoid cells produces lethal and mutagenic double strand breaks, DNA Repair, 3:1323-1334.

Yoshikawa, Y., Yamasaki, A., Takatori., K., Suzuki, M., Kobayashi, J., Takao, M., Zhang-Akiyama, Q. (2015), Excess processing of oxidative damaged bases causes hypersensitivity to oxidative stress and low dose rate irradiation, Free Radic Res, 49:1239-1248.

Zeman, M., Cimprich, K. (2014), Causes and Consequences of Replication Stress, Nat Cell Biol, 12:2-9.