Repair on the go: E. coli maintains a high proliferation rate while repairing a chronic DNA double-strand break


Elise Darmon, John K Eykelenboom, Manuel A Lopez-Vernaza, Martin A White, and David RF Leach. 2014. “Repair on the go: E. coli maintains a high proliferation rate while repairing a chronic DNA double-strand break.” PLoS One, 9, 10, Pp. e110784.


DNA damage checkpoints exist to promote cell survival and the faithful inheritance of genetic information. It is thought that one function of such checkpoints is to ensure that cell division does not occur before DNA damage is repaired. However, in unicellular organisms, rapid cell multiplication confers a powerful selective advantage, leading to a dilemma. Is the activation of a DNA damage checkpoint compatible with rapid cell multiplication? By uncoupling the initiation of DNA replication from cell division, the Escherichia coli cell cycle offers a solution to this dilemma. Here, we show that a DNA double-strand break, which occurs once per replication cycle, induces the SOS response. This SOS induction is needed for cell survival due to a requirement for an elevated level of expression of the RecA protein. Cell division is delayed, leading to an increase in average cell length but with no detectable consequence on mutagenesis and little effect on growth rate and viability. The increase in cell length caused by chronic DNA double-strand break repair comprises three components: two types of increase in the unit cell size, one independent of SfiA and SlmA, the other dependent of the presence of SfiA and the absence of SlmA, and a filamentation component that is dependent on the presence of either SfiA or SlmA. These results imply that chronic checkpoint induction in E. coli is compatible with rapid cell multiplication. Therefore, under conditions of chronic low-level DNA damage, the SOS checkpoint operates seamlessly in a cell cycle where the initiation of DNA replication is uncoupled from cell division.