Copyright © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
To cope with DNA double strand break (DSB) genotoxicity, cells have evolved two main repair pathways: homologous recombination which uses homologous DNA sequences as repair templates, and non-homologous Ku-dependent end-joining involving direct sealing of DSB ends by DNA ligase IV (Lig4). During the last two decades a third player most commonly named alternative end-joining (A-EJ) has emerged, which is defined as any Ku- or Lig4-independent end-joining process. A-EJ increasingly appears as a highly error-prone bricolage on DSBs and despite expanding exploration, it still escapes full characterization. In the present review, we discuss the mechanism and regulation of A-EJ as well as its biological relevance under physiological and pathological situations, with a particular emphasis on chromosomal instability and cancer. Whether or not it is a genuine DSB repair pathway, A-EJ is emerging as an important cellular process and understanding A-EJ will certainly be a major challenge for the coming years.