The nucleotide excision repair (NER) machinery, the primary defense against cancer-causing bulky DNA lesions, is surprisingly inefficient in recognizing certain mutagenic DNA adducts and other forms of DNA damage. However, the biochemical basis of resistance to repair remains poorly understood. To address this problem, we have investigated a series of intercalated DNA-adenine lesions derived from carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) diol epoxide metabolites that differ in their response to the mammalian NER apparatus. These stereoisomeric PAH-derived adenine lesions represent ideal model systems for elucidating the effects of structural, dynamic, and thermodynamic properties that determine the recognition of these bulky DNA lesions by NER factors. The objective of this work was to gain a systematic understanding of the relation between aromatic ring topology and adduct stereochemistry with existing experimental NER efficiencies and known thermodynamic stabilities of the damaged DNA duplexes. For this purpose, we performed 100 ns molecular dynamics studies of the lesions embedded in identical double-stranded 11-mer sequences. Our studies show that, depending on topology and stereochemistry, stabilizing PAH-DNA base van der Waals stacking interactions can compensate for destabilizing distortions caused by these lesions that can, in turn, cause resistance to NER. The results suggest that the balance between helix stabilizing and destabilizing interactions between the adduct and nearby DNA residues can account for the variability of NER efficiencies observed in this class of PAH-DNA lesions.
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