It has been suggested that errors in the repair of DNA double strand breaks (DSB) can result in gross chromosomal rearrangements (GCR), including chromosomal amplifications, deletions, inversions, and translocations. To study repair of DNA DSB in vivo, we established a subclone of the U937 cell line designated F5, in which a single copy of the rare-cutting meganuclease I-SceI recognition site has been integrated into chromosome 7. We transfected an I-SceI expression vector into these cells and analyzed misrepair events. We recovered no GCR, but instead found that most DSBs were repaired by small (<50bp) indels (91.8%). We also noticed some DSBs were repaired by large (<50bp) deletions (6.4%) and rare DSBs were repaired by large (100-500 bp) insertions (1.8%). Surprisingly, the nucleotide sequence of these insertions matched distant regions of the genome. To determine if this templated sequence insertion (TSI) was peculiar to I-SceI induced DNA DSB, we repeated the experiment using TALENs to produce DNA DSB. Again, we found insertions that were derived from distant genomic regions.

To determine whether this form of DNA repair was restricted to experimentally induced DNA DSB, we analyzed structural variations identified by whole genome sequence (WGS) of two myeloma cell lines (KP6, MC1286PE1), and identified 15 independent TSIs. These TSIs were verified by Sanger sequencing, and lengths of inserted fragment were 38 to 666 bp (median 189 bp). Six insertions were noted to be identical between the 2 cell lines, suggesting that these TSIs were germline polymorphic events. These TSIs were compared to a catalog of known structural variations identified by WGS of 52 healthy individuals; 13 of 15 TSI junctions were identified, suggesting that these represented polymorphic insertions in the human genome. Two TSIs were potential somatic mutations in the KP6 cell line, including one that had 85bp insertion at the junction of an acquired t(6;12) chromosomal translocation. Six TSIs showed the hallmarks of L1 retrotransposon-mediated insertions, with a 5’-TTTT/A-3’ integration site, a target site duplication (TSD), a polyA tract at the insertion site, and a polyadenylation signal. However, the inserted sequence was neither a LINE nor a SINE, but instead was a transcribed, genic region mapping to a distant genomic region. The presence of these L1 ORF1 hallmarks strongly suggests that these insertions were caused by the L1 integrase and reverse-transcriptase acting on nuclear pre-mRNA. A second class of TSI showed no preference for a 5’-TTTT/A-3’ integration site, no TSD, no poly A tract, but instead showed several bp of microhomology at the insertion junctions. This second class is similar to TSI detected at I-SceI induced DNA DSB, and we predict that these TSI were generated by reverse transcription of pre-mRNA creating a “patch” for a spontaneous DNA DSB that occurred in a germ cell.

To determine if TSI at I-SceI induced DNA DSB could be repaired by RNA-templated sequences, we cotransfected murine RNA and an I-SceI expression vector into F5 cells. Approximately 10% of the TSI recovered from these experiments contained mouse sequences, indicating that they were derived from mouse RNA. To further support the contention that TSIs were derived from RNA, we again used I-SceI to induce a DNA DSB, and treated the cells with reverse transcriptase inhibitors. The TSI frequency was reduced by 70%. Finally, a subset of insertions were due to telomere repeat sequences, lending further support for the hypothesis that RNA could serve as a template for the repair of DNA DSB. TSI is novel form of potentially mutagenic DNA DSB repair, which should be considered as an alternative to a balanced chromosomal translocation in the interpretation of reciprocal interchromosomal structural variations identified by short-read deep sequencing.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.