Homology directed repair (HDR) of replication-independent DNA double strand breaks (DSBs) via homologous recombination repair (HRR) or single strand annealing (SSA) requires the activation of ATM followed by ATM-mediated phosphorylation of DNA repair proteins. ATM coordinates the recruitment of DNA repair and signaling proteins to DSBs and formation of the so-called ionizing radiation induced foci (IRIF). While IRIFs include chromatin regions kilobases away from the actual DSB, this Reactome pathway represents simplified foci and shows events that happen at the very ends of the broken DNA.
For both HRR and SSA to occur, the ends of the DNA DSB must be processed (resected) to generate lengthy 3' ssDNA tails, and the resulting ssDNA coated with RPA complexes, triggering ATR activation and signaling.
After the resection step, BRCA2 and RAD51 trigger HRR, a very accurate process in which the 3'-ssDNA overhang invades a sister chromatid, base pairs with the complementary strand of the sister chromatid DNA duplex, creating a D-loop, and uses the complementary sister chromatid strand as a template for DNA repair synthesis that bridges the DSB.
The SSA is triggered when 3'-ssDNA overhangs created in the resection step contain highly homologous direct repeats. In a process involving RAD52, the direct repeats in each 3'-ssDNA overhang become annealed, the unannealed 3'-flaps excised, and structures then processed by DNA repair synthesis. SSA results in the loss of one of the annealed repeats and the DNA sequence between the two repeats. Therefore, SSA is error-prone and is probably used as a backup for HRR, with RAD52 loss-of-function mutations being synthetically lethal with mutations in HRR genes, such as BRCA2 (reviewed by Ciccia and Elledge 2010).