Precise duplication of the human genome is challenging due to both its size and sequence complexity. DNA polymerase errors made during replication, repair or recombination are central to creating mutations that drive cancer and aging. Here, we address the regulation of human DNA polymerases, specifically how human cells orchestrate DNA polymerases in the face of stress to complete replication and maintain genome stability. DNA polymerases of the B-family are uniquely adept at accurate genome replication, but there are numerous situations in which one or more additional DNA polymerases are required to complete genome replication. Polymerases of the Y-family have been extensively studied in the bypass of DNA lesions, however, recent research has revealed that these polymerases play important roles in normal human physiology. Replication stress is widely cited as contributing to genome instability, and is caused by conditions leading to slowed or stalled DNA replication. Common Fragile Sites epitomize “difficult to replicate” genome regions that are particularly vulnerable to replication stress, and are associated with DNA breakage and structural variation. In this review, we summarize the roles of both the replicative and Y-family polymerases in human cells, and focus on how these activities are regulated during normal and perturbed genome replication.
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