DNA polymerase θ (Polθ) is a family A polymerase that contains an intrinsic helicase domain. To investigate the function of Polθ in mammalian cells, we have inactivated its polymerase activity in CH12 mouse B lymphoma cells by targeted deletion of the polymerase core domain that contains the catalytic aspartic acid residue. Compared to parental CH12 cells, mutant cells devoid of Polθ polymerase activity exhibited a slightly reduced growth rate, accompanied by increased spontaneous cell death. In addition, mutant cells showed elevated sensitivity to mitomycin C, cisplatin, etoposide, γ-irradiation and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Interestingly, mutant cells were more sensitive to the alkylating agent methyl methanesulfonate (MMS) than parental cells. This elevated MMS sensitivity relative to WT cells persisted in the presence of methoxyamine, an inhibitor of the major base excision repair (BER) pathway, suggesting that Polθ is involved in tolerance of MMS through a mechanism that appears to be different from BER. These results reveal an important role for Polθ in preventing spontaneous cell death and in tolerance of not only DNA interstrand cross-links and double strand breaks but also UV adducts and alkylation damage in mammalian lymphocytes.
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