Mild phenotype of knockouts of the major apurinic/apyrimidinic endonuclease APEX1 in a non-cancer human cell line

Daria V. Kim, Liliya M. Kulishova, Natalia A. Torgasheva, Vasily S. Melentyev, Grigory L. Dianov, Sergey P. Medvedev, Suren M. Zakian, Dmitry O. Zharkov

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The major human apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP) site endonuclease, APEX1, is a central player in the base excision DNA repair (BER) pathway and has a role in the regulation of DNA binding by transcription factors. In vertebrates, APEX1 knockouts are embryonic lethal, and only a handful of knockout cell lines are known. To facilitate studies of multiple functions of this protein in human cells, we have used the CRISPR/Cas9 system to knock out the APEX1 gene in a widely used non-cancer hypotriploid HEK 293FT cell line. Two stable knockout lines were obtained, one carrying two single-base deletion alleles and one single-base insertion allele in exon 3, another homozygous in the single-base insertion allele. Both mutations cause a frameshift that leads to premature translation termination before the start of the protein's catalytic domain. Both cell lines totally lacked the APEX1 protein and AP site-cleaving activity, and showed significantly lower levels of the APEX1 transcript. The APEX1-null cells were unable to support BER on uracil- or AP site-containing substrates. Phenotypically, they showed a moderately increased sensitivity to methyl methanesulfonate (MMS; ∼2-fold lower EC50 compared with wild-type cells), and their background level of natural AP sites detected by the aldehyde-reactive probe was elevated ∼1.5-2-fold. However, the knockout lines retained a nearly wild-type sensitivity to oxidizing agents hydrogen peroxide and potassium bromate. Interestingly, despite the increased MMS cytotoxicity, we observed no additional increase in AP sites in knockout cells upon MMS treatment, which could indicate their conversion into more toxic products in the absence of repair. Overall, the relatively mild cell phenotype in the absence of APEX1-dependent BER suggests that mammalian cells possess mechanisms of tolerance or alternative repair of AP sites. The knockout derivatives of the extensively characterized HEK 293FT cell line may provide a valuable tool for studies of APEX1 in DNA repair and beyond.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0257473
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9 September
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021




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