A nervous predisposition to unrepaired DNA double strand breaks

John J Reynolds, Grant S Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) has for a long time stood apart from most other human neurodegenerative syndromes by the characteristic failure of cells derived from these patients to properly repair DNA damage-induced by ionizing radiation. The discovery of mutations in the ATM gene as being the underlying cause for A-T and the demonstration that the ATM protein functions as a DNA damage-responsive kinase has defined current research focusing on decoding how the cell responds to genotoxic stress. Yet, despite significant advances in delineating the cellular DNA damage response pathways coordinated by ATM, very little headway has been made toward understanding how loss of ATM leads to progressive cerebellar ataxia and whether this can be attributed to an underlying defect in DNA double strand break repair (DSBR). Since its identification, A-T has been used as the archetypal model for how a deficiency in DNA repair affects both the development and maintenance of the nervous and immune systems in humans as well as contributing to the process of tumourigenesis. However, following the growing availability and cost effectiveness of next generation sequencing technologies, the increasing recognition of novel human disorders associated with abnormal DNA repair has demonstrated that the neuropathology typified by A-T is an 'exception' rather than the 'rule'. As a consequence, this throws into doubt the longstanding hypothesis that the neurodegeneration seen in A-T is due to the progressive loss of damaged neurons that have acquired toxic levels of unrepaired DNA lesions over time. Therefore, this review aims to address the question: Is defective DNA double strand break repair an underlying cause of neurodegeneration?

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)588-99
Number of pages12
JournalDNA repair
Issue number8
Early online date17 May 2013
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • Ataxia Telangiectasia/genetics
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins/genetics
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded
  • DNA Repair
  • DNA Repair-Deficiency Disorders/genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Growth Disorders/genetics
  • Humans
  • Microcephaly/genetics
  • Mutation
  • Nervous System/metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases/genetics
  • Neurons/cytology
  • Nijmegen Breakage Syndrome/genetics
  • Radiation, Ionizing


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