Micronuclei are good markers of genotoxic exposure in humans and their scoring has been extensively used to identify potential genotoxic agents. Micronuclei are also indicators of chromosomal instability, since the frequency of micronuclei is higher in tumour cells and cells with a defective DNA damage repair system or disrupted cell cycle checkpoint machinery. Despite the widespread use of this biomarker, information on the basic biology of micronuclei and the impact of micronuclei on the cell is relatively controversial. In some cell systems, micronuclei are considered to be genetic material that is lost for the cell; whereas other studies suggest that micronuclear DNA is actively transcribed and its genes are fully expressed. Recently, evidence has accumulated suggesting that damaged DNA entrapped in micronuclei induces a defective cell cycle checkpoint arrest and DNA repair response, and that micronuclear content can be degraded without inducing an immediate cell cycle arrest or causing the cell to enter apoptosis. Overall, these findings emphasise the important consequences of micronucleus formation in terms of chromosomal instability in general and gene loss in particular. © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
- DNA damage response