DNA is constantly exposed to both endogenous and exogenous damages. More than 10,000 DNA modifications are induced every day in each cell’s genome. Maintenance of the integrity of the genome is accomplished by several DNA repair systems. The core enzymes for these pathways are the DNA polymerases. Out of 17 DNA polymerases present in a mammalian cell, at least 13 are specifically devoted to DNA repair and are often acting in different pathways. DNA polymerases β and λ are involved in base excision repair of modified DNA bases and translesion synthesis past DNA lesions. Polymerase λ also participates in non-homologous end joining of DNA double-strand breaks. However, recent data have revealed that, depending on their relative levels, the cell cycle phase, the ratio between deoxy- and ribo-nucleotide pools and the interaction with particular auxiliary proteins, the repair reactions carried out by these enzymes can be an important source of genetic instability, owing to repair mistakes. This review summarizes the most recent results on the ambivalent properties of these enzymes in limiting or promoting genetic instability in mammalian cells, as well as their potential use as targets for anticancer chemotherapy.
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