Nucleotide selectivity defect and mutator phenotype conferred by a colon cancer-associated DNA polymerase δ mutation in human cells

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Mutations in the POLD1 and POLE genes encoding DNA polymerases δ (Polδ) and ε (Polε) cause hereditary colorectal cancer (CRC) and have been found in many sporadic colorectal and endometrial tumors. Much attention has been focused on POLE exonuclease domain mutations, which occur frequently in hypermutated DNA mismatch repair (MMR)-proficient tumors and appear to be responsible for the bulk of genomic instability in these tumors. In contrast, somatic POLD1 mutations are seen less frequently and typically occur in MMR-deficient tumors. Their functional significance is often unclear. Here we demonstrate that expression of the cancer-associated POLD1-R689W allele is strongly mutagenic in human cells. The mutation rate increased synergistically when the POLD1-R689W expression was combined with a MMR defect, indicating that the mutator effect of POLD1-R689W results from a high rate of replication errors. Purified human Polδ-R689W has normal exonuclease activity, but the nucleotide selectivity of the enzyme is severely impaired, providing a mechanistic explanation for the increased mutation rate in the POLD1-R689W-expressing cells. The vast majority of mutations induced by the POLD1-R689W are GC→TA transversions and GC→AT transitions, with transversions showing a strong strand bias and a remarkable preference for polypurine/polypyrimidine sequences. The mutational specificity of the Polδ variant matches that of the hypermutated CRC cell line, HCT15, in which this variant was first identified. The results provide compelling evidence for the pathogenic role of the POLD1-R689W mutation in the development of the human tumor and emphasize the need to experimentally determine the significance of Polδ variants present in sporadic tumors.

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