Cortizas EM, Zahn A, Hajjar ME, Patenaude AM, Di Noia JM, Verdun RE
Classical nonhomologous end-joining (C-NHEJ) and alternative end-joining (A-EJ) are the main DNA double-strand break (DSB) repair pathways when a sister chromatid is not available. However, it is not clear how one pathway is chosen over the other to process a given DSB. To address this question, we studied in mouse splenic B cells and CH12F3 cells how C-NHEJ and A-EJ repair DSBs initiated by the activation-induced deaminase during IgH (Igh) class-switch recombination (CSR). We show in this study that lowering the deamination density at the Igh locus increases DSB resolution by microhomology-mediated repair while decreasing C-NHEJ activity. This process occurs without affecting 53BP1 and γH2AX levels during CSR. Mechanistically, lowering deamination density increases exonuclease I recruitment and single-stranded DNA at the Igh locus and promotes C-terminal binding protein interacting protein and MSH2-dependent DSB repair during CSR. Indeed, reducing activation-induced deaminase levels increases CSR efficiency in C-NHEJ-defective cells, suggesting enhanced use of an A-EJ pathway. Our results establish a mechanism by which C-NHEJ and this C-terminal binding protein interacting protein/MSH2-dependent pathway that relies on microhomology can act concurrently but independently to repair different types of DSBs and reveal that the density of DNA lesions influences the choice of DSB repair pathway during CSR.