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Flap endonuclease 1 (FEN1) is a structure selective endonuclease required for proficient DNA replication and the repair of DNA damage. Cellularly active inhibitors of this enzyme have previously been shown to induce a DNA damage response and, ultimately, cell death. High-throughput screens of human cancer cell-lines identify colorectal and gastric cell-lines with microsatellite instability (MSI) as enriched for cellular sensitivity to N-hydroxyurea series inhibitors of FEN1, but not the PARP inhibitor olaparib or other inhibitors of the DNA damage response. This sensitivity is due to a synthetic lethal interaction between FEN1 and MRE11A, which is often mutated in MSI cancers through instabilities at a poly(T) microsatellite repeat. Disruption of ATM is similarly synthetic lethal with FEN1 inhibition, suggesting that disruption of FEN1 function leads to the accumulation of DNA double-strand breaks. These are likely a result of the accumulation of aberrant replication forks, that accumulate as a consequence of a failure in Okazaki fragment maturation, as inhibition of FEN1 is toxic in cells disrupted for the Fanconi anemia pathway and post-replication repair. Furthermore, RAD51 foci accumulate as a consequence of FEN1 inhibition and the toxicity of FEN1 inhibitors increases in cells disrupted for the homologous recombination pathway, suggesting a role for homologous recombination in the resolution of damage induced by FEN1 inhibition. Finally, FEN1 appears to be required for the repair of damage induced by olaparib and cisplatin within the Fanconi anemia pathway, and may play a role in the repair of damage associated with its own disruption.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Cell Line, Tumor, Cell Survival, Cisplatin, DNA, DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded, DNA Damage, DNA Repair, DNA Replication, DNA-Binding Proteins, Down-Regulation, Flap Endonucleases, Humans, Hydroxyurea, MRE11 Homologue Protein, Microsatellite Instability, Mutation, Phthalazines, Piperazines, Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase Inhibitors, RNA Interference, RNA, Small Interfering, Rad51 Recombinase