Cellular DNA is constantly challenged by various endogenous and exogenous genotoxic factors that inevitably lead to DNA damage: structural and chemical modifications of primary DNA sequence. These DNA lesions are either cytotoxic, because they block DNA replication and transcription, or mutagenic due to the miscoding nature of the DNA modifications, or both, and are believed to contribute to cell lethality and mutagenesis. Studies on DNA repair in Escherichia coli spearheaded formulation of principal strategies to counteract DNA damage and mutagenesis, such as: direct lesion reversal, DNA excision repair, mismatch and recombinational repair and genotoxic stress signalling pathways. These DNA repair pathways are universal among cellular organisms. Mechanistic principles used for each repair strategies are fundamentally different. Direct lesion reversal removes DNA damage without need for excision and de novo DNA synthesis, whereas DNA excision repair that includes pathways such as base excision, nucleotide excision, alternative excision and mismatch repair, proceeds through phosphodiester bond breakage, de novo DNA synthesis and ligation. Cell signalling systems, such as adaptive and oxidative stress responses, although not DNA repair pathways per se, are nevertheless essential to counteract DNA damage and mutagenesis. The present review focuses on the nature of DNA damage, direct lesion reversal, DNA excision repair pathways and adaptive and oxidative stress responses in E. coli.
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