The importance of DNA repair for maintaining oocyte quality in response to anti-cancer treatments, environmental toxins and maternal ageing

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108 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Within the ovary, oocytes are stored in long-lived structures called primordial follicles, each comprising a meiotically arrested oocyte, surrounded by somatic granulosa cells. It is essential that their genetic integrity is maintained throughout life to ensure that high quality oocytes are available for ovulation. Of all the possible types of DNA damage, DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are considered to be the most severe. Recent studies have shown that DNA DSBs can accumulate in oocytes in primordial follicles during reproductive ageing, and are readily induced by exogenous factors such as γ-irradiation, chemotherapy and environmental toxicants. DSBs can induce oocyte death or, alternatively, activate a program of DNA repair in order to restore genetic integrity and promote survival. The repair of DSBs has been intensively studied in the context of meiotic recombination, and in recent years more detail is becoming available regarding the repair capabilities of primordial follicle oocytes. OBJECTIVE AND RATIONALE: This review discusses the induction and repair of DNA DSBs in primordial follicle oocytes. SEARCH METHODS: PubMed (Medline) and Google Scholar searches were performed using the key words: primordial follicle oocyte, DNA repair, double-strand break, DNA damage, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, ageing, environmental toxicant. The literature was restricted to papers in the English language and limited to reports in animals and humans dated from 1964 until 2017. The references within these articles were also manually searched. OUTCOMES: Recent experiments in animal models and humans have provided compelling evidence that primordial follicle oocytes can efficiently repair DNA DSBs arising from diverse origins, but this capacity may decline with increasing age. WIDER IMPLICATIONS: Primordial follicle oocytes are vulnerable to DNA DSBs emanating from endogenous and exogenous sources. The ability to repair this damage is essential for female fertility. In the long term, augmenting DNA repair in primordial follicle oocytes has implications for the development of novel fertility preservation agents for female cancer patients and for the management of maternal ageing. However, further work is required to fully characterize the specific proteins involved and to develop strategies to bolster their activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-134
Number of pages16
JournalHuman Reproduction Update
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • Ageing
  • Chemotherapy
  • DNA repair
  • Oocyte
  • Primordial follicle
  • Radiotherapy

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