DNA replication

DNA strands have a directionality, and the different ends of a single strand are called the "3′ (three-prime) end" and the "5′ (five-prime) end". By convention, if the base sequence of a single strand of DNA is given, the left end of the sequence is the 5′ end, while the right end of the sequence is the 3′ end. The strands of the double helix are anti-parallel with one being 5′ to 3′, and the opposite strand 3′ to 5′. These terms refer to the carbon atom in deoxyribose to which the next phosphate in the chain attaches. Directionality has consequences in DNA synthesis, because DNA polymerase can synthesize DNA in only one direction by adding nucleotides to the 3′ end of a DNA strand.

DNA replication, like all biological polymerization processes, proceeds in three enzymatically catalyzed and coordinated steps: initiation, elongation and termination.

DNA polymerase has 5′–3′ activity. All known DNA replication systems require a free 3′ hydroxyl group before synthesis can be initiated (note: the DNA template is read in 3′ to 5′ direction whereas a new strand is synthesized in the 5′ to 3′ direction—this is often confused). Four distinct mechanisms for DNA synthesis are recognized:

The replication fork is a structure that forms within the long helical DNA during DNA replication. It is created by helicases, which break the hydrogen bonds holding the two DNA strands together in the helix. The resulting structure has two branching "prongs", each one made up of a single strand of DNA. These two strands serve as the template for the leading and lagging strands, which will be created as DNA polymerase matches complementary nucleotides to the templates; the templates may be properly referred to as the leading strand template and the lagging strand template.

Since the leading and lagging strand templates are oriented in opposite directions at the replication fork, a major issue is how to achieve synthesis of new lagging strand DNA, whose direction of synthesis is opposite to the direction of the growing replication fork.

DNA is read by DNA polymerase in the 3′ to 5′ direction, meaning the new strand is synthesized in the 5' to 3' direction.

The leading strand is the strand of new DNA which is synthesized in the same direction as the growing replication fork. This sort of DNA replication is continuous.

The lagging strand is the strand of new DNA whose direction of synthesis is opposite to the direction of the growing replication fork. Because of its orientation, replication of the lagging strand is more complicated as compared to that of the leading strand. As a consequence, the DNA polymerase on this strand is seen to "lag behind" the other strand.

E. coli Replisome. Notably, the DNA on lagging strand forms a loop. The exact structure of replisome is not well understood.

Termination requires that the progress of the DNA replication fork must stop or be blocked. Termination at a specific locus, when it occurs, involves the interaction between two components: (1) a termination site sequence in the DNA, and (2) a protein which binds to this sequence to physically stop DNA replication. In various bacterial species, this is named the DNA replication terminus site-binding protein, or Ter protein.

The G1/S checkpoint (or restriction checkpoint) regulates whether eukaryotic cells enter the process of DNA replication and subsequent division. Cells that do not proceed through this checkpoint remain in the G0 stage and do not replicate their DNA.

Replication of chloroplast and mitochondrial genomes occurs independently of the cell cycle, through the process of D-loop replication.

ATP builds up when the cell is in a rich medium, triggering DNA replication once the cell has reached a specific size. ATP competes with ADP to bind to DnaA, and the DnaA-ATP complex is able to initiate replication. A certain number of DnaA proteins are also required for DNA replication — each time the origin is copied, the number of binding sites for DnaA doubles, requiring the synthesis of more DnaA to enable another initiation of replication.

Replication fork restarts by homologous recombination following replication stress
Epigenetic consequences of nucleosome reassembly defects at stalled replication forks