RNases H1 and H2: Guardians of the stability of the nuclear genome when supply of dNTPs is limiting for DNA synthesis

Susana M. Cerritelli, Aziz El Hage

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


RNA/DNA hybrids are processed by RNases H1 and H2, while single ribonucleoside-monophosphates (rNMPs) embedded in genomic DNA are removed by the error-free, RNase H2-dependent ribonucleotide excision repair (RER) pathway. In the absence of RER, however, topoisomerase 1 (Top1) can cleave single genomic rNMPs in a mutagenic manner. In RNase H2-deficient mice, the accumulation of genomic rNMPs above a threshold of tolerance leads to catastrophic genomic instability that causes embryonic lethality. In humans, deficiencies in RNase H2 induce the autoimmune disorders Aicardi–Goutières syndrome and systemic lupus erythematosus, and cause skin and intestinal cancers. Recently, we reported that in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the depletion of Rnr1, the major catalytic subunit of ribonucleotide reductase (RNR), which converts ribonucleotides to deoxyribonucleotides, leads to cell lethality in absence of RNases H1 and H2. We hypothesized that under replicative stress and compromised DNA repair that are elicited by an insufficient supply of deoxyribonucleoside-triphosphates (dNTPs), cells cannot survive the accumulation of persistent RNA/DNA hybrids. Remarkably, we found that cells lacking RNase H2 accumulate ~ 5-fold more genomic rNMPs in absence than in presence of Rnr1. When the load of genomic rNMPs is further increased in the presence of a replicative DNA polymerase variant that over-incorporates rNMPs in leading or lagging strand, cells missing both Rnr1 and RNase H2 suffer from severe growth defects. These are reversed in absence of Top1. Thus, in cells lacking RNase H2 and containing a limiting supply of dNTPs, there is a threshold of tolerance for the accumulation of genomic ribonucleotides that is tightly associated with Top1-mediated DNA damage. In this mini-review, we describe the implications of the loss of RNase H2, or RNases H1 and H2, on the integrity of the nuclear genome and viability of budding yeast cells that are challenged with a critically low supply of dNTPs. We further propose that our findings in budding yeast could pave the way for the study of the potential role of mammalian RNR in RNase H2-related diseases.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Genetics
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sep 2020


  • RNase H
  • Topoisomerase 1
  • ribonucleotide reductase
  • ribonucleotide
  • R-loop
  • DNA damage


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