Fanconi anemia (FA) is a hereditary chromosomal instability disorder often displaying congenital abnormalities and characterized by a predisposition to progressive bone marrow failure (BMF) and cancer. Over the last 25 years since the discovery of the first linkage of genetic mutations to FA, its molecular genetic landscape has expanded tremendously as it became apparent that FA is a disease characterized by a defect in a specific DNA repair pathway responsible for the correction of covalent cross-links between the two complementary strands of the DNA double helix. This pathway has become increasingly complex, with the discovery of now over 20 FA-linked genes implicated in interstrand cross-link (ICL) repair. Moreover, gene products known to be involved in double-strand break (DSB) repair, mismatch repair (MMR), and nucleotide excision repair (NER) play roles in the ICL response and repair of associated DNA damage. While ICL repair is predominantly coupled with DNA replication, it also can occur in non-replicating cells. DNA damage accumulation and hematopoietic stem cell failure are thought to contribute to the increased inflammation and oxidative stress prevalent in FA. Adding to its confounding nature, certain FA gene products are also engaged in the response to replication stress, caused endogenously or by agents other than ICL-inducing drugs. In this review, we discuss the mechanistic aspects of the FA pathway and the molecular defects leading to elevated replication stress believed to underlie the cellular phenotypes and clinical features of FA.
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