The mismatch repair (MMR) system corrects single base mismatches and small insertion and deletion loops (IDLs) of unpaired bases. MMR is primarily associated with DNA replication and is highly conserved across prokaryotes and eukaryotes. MMR consists of the following basic steps: a sensor (MutS homologue) detects a mismatch or IDL, the sensor activates a set of proteins (a MutL homologue and an exonuclease) that select the nascent DNA strand to be repaired, nick the strand, exonucleolytically remove a region of nucleotides containing the mismatch, and finally a DNA polymerase resynthesizes the strand and a ligase seals the remaining nick (reviewed in Kolodner and Marsischkny 1999, Iyer et al. 2006, Li 2008, Fukui 2010, Jiricny 2013).
Humans have 2 different MutS complexes. The MSH2:MSH6 heterodimer (MutSalpha) recognizes single base mismatches and small loops of one or two unpaired bases. The MSH2:MSH3 heterodimer (MutSbeta) recognizes loops of two or more unpaired bases. Upon binding a mismatch, the MutS complex becomes activated in an ATP-dependent manner allowing for subsequent downstream interactions and movement on the DNA substrate. (There are two mechanisms proposed: a sliding clamp and a switch diffusion model.) Though the order of steps and structural details are not fully known, the activated MutS complex interacts with MLH1:PMS2 (MutLalpha) and PCNA, the sliding clamp present at replication foci. The role of PCNA is multifaceted as it may act as a processivity factor in recruiting MMR proteins to replicating DNA, interact with MLH1:PMS2 and Exonuclease 1 (EXO1) to initiate excision of the recently replicated strand and direct DNA polymerase delta to initiate replacement of bases. MLH1:PMS2 makes an incision in the strand to be repaired and EXO1 extends the incision to make a single-stranded gap of up to 1 kb that removes the mismatched base(s). (Based on assays of purified human proteins, there is also a variant of the mismatch repair pathway that does not require EXO1, however the mechanism is not clear. EXO1 is almost always required, it is possible that the exonuclease activity of DNA polymerase delta may compensate in some situations and it has been proposed that other endonucleases may perform redundant functions in the absence of EXO1.) RPA binds the single-stranded region and a new strand is synthesized across the gap by DNA polymerase delta. The remaining nick is sealed by DNA ligase I (LIG1).
Concentrations of MMR proteins MSH2:MSH6 and MLH1:PMS2 increase in human cells during S phase and are at their highest level and activity during this phase of the cell cycle (Edelbrock et al. 2009). Defects in MSH2, MSH6, MLH1, and PMS2 cause hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC, also known as Lynch syndrome) (reviewed in Martin-Lopez and Fishel 2013).