The base excision repair (BER) pathway plays a key role in protecting the genome from endogenous DNA damage. Current methods to measure BER activities are indirect and cumbersome. Here, we introduce a direct method to assay DNA excision repair that is suitable for automation and industrial use, based on the fluorescence quenching mechanism of molecular beacons. We designed a single-stranded DNA oligonucleotide labelled with a 5'-fluorescein (F) and a 3'-Dabcyl (D) in which the fluorophore, F, is held in close proximity to the quencher, D, by the stem-loop structure design of the oligonucleotide. Following removal of the modified base or incision of the oligonucleotide, the fluorophore is separated from the quencher and fluorescence can be detected as a function of time. Several modified beacons have been used to validate the assay on both cell-free extracts and purified proteins. We have further developed the method to analyze BER in cultured cells. As described, the molecular beacon-based assay can be applied to all DNA modifications processed by DNA excision/incision repair pathways. Possible applications of the assay are discussed, including high-throughput real-time DNA repair measurements both in vitro and in living cells.
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