DNA end-joining was measured by incubating linearized plasmid DNA with mitochondrial protein extracts. A spectrum of end-joined molecules ranging from re-circularized monomer to dimer and higher molecular weight forms was observed. The DNA end-joining reaction required ATP and Mg2+, and was inhibited by sodium chloride. Both cohesive- and blunt-ended DNA molecules were end-joined, although the former were more efficient substrates. Molecular analysis of rejoined molecules revealed that >95% of the linearized DNA were precisely end-joined. The few imprecisely end-joined molecules recovered, sustained deletions that spanned direct repeat sequences. The deletions observed are strikingly similar to those present in mitochondrial genomes of patients with Kearns-Sayre or Pearson syndromes, certain ophthalmic myopathies and the aged. These results suggest that mammalian mitochondria possess a DNA double strand break repair activity similar to that seen in the nucleus, and that this repair pathway may play a role in the generation of mitochondrial DNA deletions associated with a number of human pathologies.
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