A universal response to replication stress is replication fork reversal, where the nascent complementary DNA strands are annealed to form a protective four-way junction allowing forks to avert DNA damage while replication stress is resolved. However, reversed forks are in turn susceptible to nucleolytic digestion of the regressed nascent DNA arms and rely on dedicated mechanisms to protect their integrity. The most well studied fork protection mechanism involves the BRCA pathway and its ability to catalyze RAD51 nucleofilament formation on the reversed arms of stalled replication forks. Importantly, the inability to prevent the degradation of reversed forks has emerged as a hallmark of BRCA deficiency and underlies genome instability and chemosensitivity in BRCA-deficient cells. In the past decade, multiple factors underlying fork stability have been discovered. These factors either cooperate with the BRCA pathway, operate independently from it to augment fork stability in its absence, or act as enablers of fork degradation. In this review, we examine these novel determinants of fork stability, explore the emergent conceptual underpinnings underlying fork protection, as well as the impact of fork protection on cellular viability and cancer therapy.
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