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Cells have evolved a complex network of biochemical pathways, collectively known as the DNA damage response (DDR), to prevent detrimental mutations from being passed on to their progeny. The DDR coordinates DNA repair with cell-cycle checkpoint activation and other global cellular responses. Genes encoding DDR factors are frequently mutated in cancer, causing genomic instability, an intrinsic feature of many tumours that underlies their ability to grow, metastasize and respond to treatments that inflict DNA damage (such as radiotherapy). One instance where we have greater insight into how genetic DDR abrogation impacts on therapy responses is in tumours with mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2. Due to compromised homologous recombination DNA repair, these tumours rely on alternative repair mechanisms and are susceptible to chemical inhibitors of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP), which specifically kill homologous recombination-deficient cancer cells, and have become a paradigm for targeted cancer therapy. It is now clear that many other synthetic-lethal relationships exist between DDR genes. Crucially, some of these interactions could be exploited in the clinic to target tumours that become resistant to PARP inhibition. In this Review, we discuss state-of-the-art strategies for DDR inactivation using small-molecule inhibitors and highlight those compounds currently being evaluated in the clinic.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Rev Cancer

Publication Date





78 - 94


Humans, Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase Inhibitors, Neoplasms, DNA Repair, DNA Damage, Mutation, Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases