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September 15, 2015

The DNA Damage Response—Self-awareness for DNA: The 2015 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Genetics, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA. 2015;314(11):1111-1112. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.10387

The 2015 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award has been presented to Stephen J. Elledge, PhD, and Evelyn M. Witkin, PhD, for discoveries concerning the DNA-damage response—a fundamental mechanism that protects the genomes of all living organisms. This Viewpoint provides a summary of the role of the DNA damage response in physiologic responses and the importance in human health.

One of the remarkable properties of nature’s most remarkable molecule, DNA, is self-awareness: it can detect information about its own integrity and transmit that information back to itself. The pathway responsible for this impressive ability is known as the DNA damage response (DDR). The first thoughts many scientists have about DNA damage involve the stereotypical DNA repair pathways such as nucleotide excision repair or base excision repair, which identify damaged bases, excise them, and perfectly patch the DNA. However, there is a much higher-level orchestrator of the cellular response to damaged DNA that deals with nonstereotypical and supremely deleterious alterations of DNA structure and distribution of information about their existence.