Misincorporation of non-complementary bases by DNA polymerases is a major source of the occurrence of promutagenic base-pairing errors during DNA replication or repair. Base–base mismatches or loops of extra bases can arise which, if left unrepaired, will generate point or frameshift mutations respectively. To counteract this mutagenic potential, organisms have developed a number of elaborate surveillance and repair strategies which co-operate to maintain the integrity of their genomes. An important replication-associated correction function is provided by the post-replicative mismatch repair system. This system is highly conserved among species and appears to be the major pathway for strand-specific elimination of base–base mispairs and short insertion/deletion loops (IDLs), not only during DNA replication, but also in intermediates of homologous recombination. The efficiency of repair of different base-pairing errors in the DNA varies, and appears to depend on multiple factors, such as the physical structure of the mismatch and sequence context effects. These structural aspects of mismatch repair are poorly understood. In contrast, remarkable progress in understanding the biochemical role of error-recognition proteins has been made in the recent past. In eukaryotes, two heterodimers consisting of MutS-homologous proteins have been shown to share the function of mismatch recognition in vivo and in vitro. A first MutS homologue, MSH2, is present in both heterodimers, and the specificity for mismatch recognition is dictated by its association with either of two other MutS homologues: MSH6 for recognition of base–base mismatches and small IDLs, or MSH3 for recognition of IDLs only. Mismatch repair deficiency in cells can arise through mutation, transcriptional silencing or as a result of imbalanced expression of these genes.

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