Prior to ligation, each Okazaki fragment synthesized on the lagging strand in eukaryotes must be nucleolytically processed. Nuclease cleavage takes place in the context of 5 flap structures generated via strand-displacement synthesis by DNA polymerase delta. At least three DNA nucleases: Rad27 (Fen1), Dna2 and Exo1, have been implicated in processing Okazaki fragment flaps. However, neither the contributions of individual nucleases to lagging-strand synthesis nor the structure of the DNA intermediates formed in their absence have been fully defined in vivo. By conditionally depleting lagging-strand nucleases and directly analyzing Okazaki fragments synthesized in vivo in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, we conduct a systematic evaluation of the impact of Rad27, Dna2 and Exo1 on lagging-strand synthesis. We find that Rad27 processes the majority of lagging-strand flaps, with a significant additional contribution from Exo1 but not from Dna2. When nuclease cleavage is impaired, we observe a reduction in strand-displacement synthesis as opposed to the widespread generation of long Okazaki fragment 5 flaps, as predicted by some models. Further, using cell cycle-restricted constructs, we demonstrate that both the nucleolytic processing and the ligation of Okazaki fragments can be uncoupled from DNA replication and delayed until after synthesis of the majority of the genome is complete.
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