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1.  Human RNF169 is a negative regulator of the ubiquitin-dependent response to DNA double-strand breaks 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2012;197(2):189-199.
RNF169 competes with repair factors to bind to ubiquitylated chromatin at sites of DNA damage, influencing repair pathway utilization.
Nonproteolytic ubiquitylation of chromatin surrounding deoxyribonucleic acid double-strand breaks (DSBs), mediated by the RNF8/RNF168 ubiquitin ligases, plays a key role in recruiting repair factors, including 53BP1 and BRCA1, to reestablish genome integrity. In this paper, we show that human RNF169, an uncharacterized E3 ubiquitin ligase paralogous to RNF168, accumulated in DSB repair foci through recognition of RNF168-catalyzed ubiquitylation products by its motif interacting with ubiquitin domain. Unexpectedly, RNF169 was dispensable for chromatin ubiquitylation and ubiquitin-dependent accumulation of repair factors at DSB sites. Instead, RNF169 functionally competed with 53BP1 and RAP80–BRCA1 for association with RNF168-modified chromatin independent of its catalytic activity, limiting the magnitude of their recruitment to DSB sites. By delaying accumulation of 53BP1 and RAP80 at damaged chromatin, RNF169 stimulated homologous recombination and restrained nonhomologous end joining, affecting cell survival after DSB infliction. Our results show that RNF169 functions in a noncanonical fashion to harness RNF168-mediated protein recruitment to DSB-containing chromatin, thereby contributing to regulation of DSB repair pathway utilization.
PMCID: PMC3328375  PMID: 22492721
2.  RNF4 is required for DNA double-strand break repair in vivo 
Cell Death and Differentiation  2012;20(3):490-502.
Unrepaired DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) cause genetic instability that leads to malignant transformation or cell death. Cells respond to DSBs with the ordered recruitment of signaling and repair proteins to the sites of DNA lesions. Coordinated protein SUMOylation and ubiquitylation have crucial roles in regulating the dynamic assembly of protein complexes at these sites. However, how SUMOylation influences protein ubiquitylation at DSBs is poorly understood. We show herein that Rnf4, an E3 ubiquitin ligase that targets SUMO-modified proteins, accumulates in DSB repair foci and is required for both homologous recombination (HR) and non-homologous end joining repair. To establish a link between Rnf4 and the DNA damage response (DDR) in vivo, we generated an Rnf4 allelic series in mice. We show that Rnf4-deficiency causes persistent ionizing radiation-induced DNA damage and signaling, and that Rnf4-deficient cells and mice exhibit increased sensitivity to genotoxic stress. Mechanistically, we show that Rnf4 targets SUMOylated MDC1 and SUMOylated BRCA1, and is required for the loading of Rad51, an enzyme required for HR repair, onto sites of DNA damage. Similarly to inactivating mutations in other key regulators of HR repair, Rnf4 deficiency leads to age-dependent impairment in spermatogenesis. These findings identify Rnf4 as a critical component of the DDR in vivo and support the possibility that Rnf4 controls protein localization at DNA damage sites by integrating SUMOylation and ubiquitylation events.
PMCID: PMC3569989  PMID: 23197296
DNA damage; homologous recombination; RNF4; BRCA1; MDC1; Rad51; spermatogenesis
3.  Homozygous deficiency of ubiquitin-ligase ring-finger protein RNF168 mimics the radiosensitivity syndrome of ataxia-telangiectasia 
Cell Death and Differentiation  2011;18(9):1500-1506.
Maintaining genomic integrity is critical to avoid life-threatening disorders, such as premature aging, neurodegeneration and cancer. A multiprotein cascade operates at sites of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) to recognize, signal and repair damage. RNF168 (ring-finger nuclear factor) contributes to this emerging pathway of several E3 ubiquitin ligases that perform sequential ubiquitylations on damaged chromosomes, chromatin modifications essential for aggregation of repair complexes at the DSB sites. Here, we report the clinical and cellular phenotypes associated with a newly identified homozygous nonsense mutation in the RNF168 gene of a patient with a syndrome mimicking ataxia-telangiectasia. The mutation eliminated both of RNF168's ubiquitin-binding motifs, thus blocking progression of the ubiquitylation cascade and retention of repair proteins including tumor suppressors 53BP1 and BRCA1 at DSB sites, consistent with the observed defective DNA damage checkpoints/repair and pronounced radiosensitivity. Rapid screening for RNF168 pathway deficiency was achieved by scoring patients' lymphoblastoid cells for irradiation-induced nuclear foci containing 53BP1, a robust assay we propose for future diagnostic applications. The formation of radiation-induced DSB repair foci was rescued by ectopic expression of wild-type RNF168 in patient's cells, further causally linking the RNF168 mutation with the pathology. Clinically, this novel syndrome featured ataxia, telangiectasia, elevated alphafetoprotein, immunodeficiency, microcephaly and pulmonary failure and has implications for the differential diagnosis of autosomal recessive ataxias.
PMCID: PMC3178430  PMID: 21394101
DNA damage signaling and repair; RNF168 and BRCA1 ubiquitin ligases; ionizing radiation-induced 53BP1 foci; ataxia-telangiectasia mimicking syndrome; alphafetoprotein, microcephaly
4.  The NuRD chromatin–remodeling complex regulates signaling and repair of DNA damage 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2010;190(5):741-749.
NuRD is recruited to DNA double-strand breaks, where it promotes RNF8/RNF168 histone ubiquitylation and accumulation of DNA repair factors (see also related paper by Larsen et al. in this issue).
Cells respond to ionizing radiation (IR)–induced DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) by orchestrating events that coordinate cell cycle progression and DNA repair. How cells signal and repair DSBs is not yet fully understood. A genome-wide RNA interference screen in Caenorhabditis elegans identified egr-1 as a factor that protects worm cells against IR. The human homologue of egr-1, MTA2 (metastasis-associated protein 2), is a subunit of the nucleosome-remodeling and histone deacetylation (NuRD) chromatin-remodeling complex. We show that knockdown of MTA2 and CHD4 (chromodomain helicase DNA-binding protein 4), the catalytic subunit (adenosine triphosphatase [ATPase]) of NuRD, leads to accumulation of spontaneous DNA damage and increased IR sensitivity. MTA2 and CHD4 accumulate in DSB-containing chromatin tracks generated by laser microirradiation. Directly at DSBs, CHD4 stimulates RNF8/RNF168-dependent formation of ubiquitin conjugates to facilitate the accrual of RNF168 and BRCA1. Finally, we show that CHD4 promotes DSB repair and checkpoint activation in response to IR. Thus, the NuRD chromatin–remodeling complex is a novel regulator of DNA damage responses that orchestrates proper signaling and repair of DSBs.
PMCID: PMC2935570  PMID: 20805320
5.  RNF8-Independent Lys63 Poly-Ubiquitylation Prevents Genomic Instability in Response to Replication-Associated DNA Damage 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89997.
The cellular response to DNA double strand breaks (DSBs) involves the ordered assembly of repair proteins at or near sites of damage. This process is mediated through post-translational protein modifications that include both phosphorylation and ubiquitylation. Recent data have demonstrated that recruitment of the repair proteins BRCA1, 53BP1, and RAD18 to ionizing irradiation (IR) induced DSBs is dependent on formation of non-canonical K63-linked polyubiquitin chains by the RNF8 and RNF168 ubiquitin ligases. Here we report a novel role for K63-ubiquitylation in response to replication-associated DSBs that contributes to both cell survival and maintenance of genome stability. Suppression of K63-ubiquitylation markedly increases large-scale mutations and chromosomal aberrations in response to endogenous or exogenous replication-associated DSBs. These effects are associated with an S-phase specific defect in DNA repair as revealed by an increase in residual 53BP1 foci. Use of both knockdown and knockout cell lines indicates that unlike the case for IR-induced DSBs, the requirement for K63-ubiquitylation for the repair of replication associated DSBs was found to be RNF8-independent. Our findings reveal the existence of a novel K63-ubiquitylation dependent repair pathway that contributes to the maintenance of genome integrity in response to replication-associated DSBs.
PMCID: PMC3938561  PMID: 24587176
6.  Genomic Instability, Defective Spermatogenesis, Immunodeficiency, and Cancer in a Mouse Model of the RIDDLE Syndrome 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(4):e1001381.
Eukaryotic cells have evolved to use complex pathways for DNA damage signaling and repair to maintain genomic integrity. RNF168 is a novel E3 ligase that functions downstream of ATM,γ-H2A.X, MDC1, and RNF8. It has been shown to ubiquitylate histone H2A and to facilitate the recruitment of other DNA damage response proteins, including 53BP1, to sites of DNA break. In addition, RNF168 mutations have been causally linked to the human RIDDLE syndrome. In this study, we report that Rnf168−/− mice are immunodeficient and exhibit increased radiosensitivity. Rnf168−/− males suffer from impaired spermatogenesis in an age-dependent manner. Interestingly, in contrast to H2a.x−/−, Mdc1−/−, and Rnf8−/− cells, transient recruitment of 53bp1 to DNA double-strand breaks was abolished in Rnf168−/− cells. Remarkably, similar to 53bp1 inactivation, but different from H2a.x deficiency, inactivation of Rnf168 impairs long-range V(D)J recombination in thymocytes and results in long insertions at the class-switch junctions of B-cells. Loss of Rnf168 increases genomic instability and synergizes with p53 inactivation in promoting tumorigenesis. Our data reveal the important physiological functions of Rnf168 and support its role in both γ-H2a.x-Mdc1-Rnf8-dependent and -independent signaling pathways of DNA double-strand breaks. These results highlight a central role for RNF168 in the hierarchical network of DNA break signaling that maintains genomic integrity and suppresses cancer development in mammals.
Author Summary
The repair of DNA damage is fundamental as illustrated by the many human syndromes, immunodeficiencies, and cancers associated with defects in DNA damage signaling and repair. RIDDLE syndrome, caused by mutations of the human RNF168, is a novel hereditary disease clinically characterized by radiosensitivity, immunodeficiency, dysmorphic features, and learning difficulties. RNF168 is an E3 ligase that modifies histones and chromatin structure at sites of DNA breaks. In this study, we show that Rnf168 deficiency in mice leads to increased radiosensitivity, immunodeficiency, and defective spermatogenesis. Additionally, dual inactivation of Rnf168 and p53 leads to increased cancer risk. Collectively these data demonstrate important and broad physiological functions for Rnf168.
PMCID: PMC3084200  PMID: 21552324
7.  The ubiquitin specific protease USP34 promotes ubiquitin signaling at DNA double-strand breaks 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(18):8572-8580.
Ubiquitylation plays key roles in DNA damage signal transduction. The current model envisions that lysine63-linked ubiquitin chains, via the concerted action of E3 ubiquitin ligases RNF8-RNF168, are built at DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) to effectively assemble DNA damage-repair factors for proper checkpoint control and DNA repair. We found that RNF168 is a short-lived protein that is stabilized by the deubiquitylating enzyme USP34 in response to DNA damage. In the absence of USP34, RNF168 is rapidly degraded, resulting in attenuated DSB-associated ubiquitylation, defective recruitment of BRCA1 and 53BP1 and compromised cell survival after ionizing radiation. We propose that USP34 promotes a feed-forward loop to enforce ubiquitin signaling at DSBs and highlight critical roles of ubiquitin dynamics in genome stability maintenance.
PMCID: PMC3794584  PMID: 23863847
8.  Mammalian SUMO E3-ligases PIAS1 and PIAS4 promote responses to DNA double-strand breaks 
Nature  2009;462(7275):935-939.
DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are highly cytotoxic lesions that are generated by ionizing radiation (IR) and various DNA-damaging chemicals. Following DSB formation, cells activate the DNA-damage response (DDR) protein kinases ATM, ATR and DNA-PK. These then trigger histone H2AX phosphorylation and the accumulation of proteins such as MDC1, 53BP1, BRCA1, CtIP, RNF8 and RNF168/RIDDLIN into IR-induced foci (IRIF) that amplify DSB signalling and promote DSB repair1,2. Attachment of Small Ubiquitin-related modifier (SUMO) to target proteins controls diverse cellular functions3-6. Here, we show that SUMO1, SUMO2 and SUMO3 accumulate at DSB sites in mammalian cells, with SUMO1 and SUMO2/3 accrual requiring the E3 ligase enzymes PIAS4 and PIAS1. We also establish that PIAS1 and PIAS4 are recruited to damage sites via mechanisms requiring their SAP domains, and are needed for the productive association of 53BP1, BRCA1 and RNF168 with such regions. Furthermore, we show that PIAS1 and PIAS4 promote DSB repair and confer IR resistance. Finally, we establish that PIAS1 and PIAS4 are required for effective Ubiquitin-adduct formation mediated by RNF8, RNF168 and BRCA1 at sites of DNA damage7-11. These findings thus identify PIAS1 and PIAS4 as components of the DDR and reveal how protein recruitment to DSB sites is controlled by coordinated sumoylation and ubiquitylation.
PMCID: PMC2904806  PMID: 20016603
9.  RAP80 and RNF8, key players in the recruitment of repair proteins to DNA damage sites 
Cancer letters  2008;271(2):179-190.
Chromosomal double-strand breaks (DSBs) in eukaryotes provoke a rapid, extensive modification in chromatin flanking the breaks. The DNA damage response (DDR) coordinates activation of cell cycle checkpoints, apoptosis, and DNA repair networks, to ensure accurate repair and genomic integrity. The checkpoint kinase ATM plays a critical role in the initiation of DDR in response to DSBs. The early ATM-mediated phosphorylation of the histone variant H2AX proteins near DSBs leads to the subsequent binding of MDC1, which functions as a scaffold for the recruitment and assembly of many DDR mediators and effectors, including BRCA1. Recent studies have provided new insights into the mechanism by which BRCA1 and associated proteins are recruited to DNA damage foci and revealed key roles for the receptor-associated protein 80 (RAP80) and the E3 ligase RNF8 in this process. RAP80 is an ubiquitin-interaction motif (UIM) containing protein that is associated with a BRCA1/BARD1 complex through its interaction with CCDC98 (Abraxas). The UIMs of RAP80 are critical for targeting this protein complex to DSB sites. Additional studies revealed that after binding γ-H2AX, ATM-phosphorylated MDC1 is recognized by the FHA domain of RNF8, which subsequently binds the E2 conjugating enzyme UBC13. This complex catalyzes K63-linked polyubiquitination of histones H2A and γH2AX, which are then recognized by the UIMs of RAP80, thereby facilitating the recruitment of the BRCA1/BARD1/CCDC98/RAP80 protein complex to DSB sites. Depletion of RAP80 or RNF8 impairs the translocation of BRCA1 to DNA damage sites and results in defective cell cycle checkpoint control and DSB repair. In this review, we discuss this cascade of protein phosphorylation and ubiquitination and the role it plays in the control of cellular responses to genotoxic stress by regulating the interactions, localization, and function of DDR proteins.
PMCID: PMC2749678  PMID: 18550271
double strand breaks; RAP80; RNF8; ubiquitination; CCDC98/Abraxas; BRCA1; UIM; MDC1
10.  Role of Polycomb Group Proteins in the DNA Damage Response – A Reassessment 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e102968.
A growing body of evidence suggests that Polycomb group (PcG) proteins, key regulators of lineage specific gene expression, also participate in the repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) but evidence for direct recruitment of PcG proteins at specific breaks remains limited. Here we explore the association of Polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1) components with DSBs generated by inducible expression of the AsiSI restriction enzyme in normal human fibroblasts. Based on immunofluorescent staining, the co-localization of PRC1 proteins with components of the DNA damage response (DDR) in these primary cells is unconvincing. Moreover, using chromatin immunoprecipitation and deep sequencing (ChIP-seq), which detects PRC1 proteins at common sites throughout the genome, we did not find evidence for recruitment of PRC1 components to AsiSI-induced DSBs. In contrast, the S2056 phosphorylated form of DNA-PKcs and other DDR proteins were detected at a subset of AsiSI sites that are predominantly at the 5′ ends of transcriptionally active genes. Our data question the idea that PcG protein recruitment provides a link between DSB repairs and transcriptional repression.
PMCID: PMC4109945  PMID: 25057768
11.  BMI1 Is Recruited to DNA Breaks and Contributes to DNA Damage-Induced H2A Ubiquitination and Repair ▿ †  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2011;31(10):1972-1982.
DNA damage activates signaling pathways that lead to modification of local chromatin and recruitment of DNA repair proteins. Multiple DNA repair proteins having ubiquitin ligase activity are recruited to sites of DNA damage, where they ubiquitinate histones and other substrates. This DNA damage-induced histone ubiquitination is thought to play a critical role in mediating the DNA damage response. We now report that the polycomb protein BMI1 is rapidly recruited to sites of DNA damage, where it persists for more than 8 h. The sustained localization of BMI1 to damage sites is dependent on intact ATM and ATR and requires H2AX phosphorylation and recruitment of RNF8. BMI1 is required for DNA damage-induced ubiquitination of histone H2A at lysine 119. Loss of BMI1 leads to impaired repair of DNA double-strand breaks by homologous recombination and the accumulation of cells in G2/M. These data support a crucial role for BMI1 in the cellular response to DNA damage.
PMCID: PMC3133356  PMID: 21383063
12.  DNA damage–inducible SUMOylation of HERC2 promotes RNF8 binding via a novel SUMO-binding Zinc finger 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2012;197(2):179-187.
SUMOylation of the ubiquitin ligase HERC2 promotes efficient chromatin licensing in the vicinity of DNA double-strand breaks.
Nonproteolytic ubiquitylation of chromatin surrounding deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) double-strand breaks (DSBs) by the RNF8/RNF168/HERC2 ubiquitin ligases facilitates restoration of genome integrity by licensing chromatin to concentrate genome caretaker proteins near the lesions. In parallel, SUMOylation of so-far elusive upstream DSB regulators is also required for execution of this ubiquitin-dependent chromatin response. We show that HERC2 and RNF168 are novel DNA damage–dependent SUMOylation targets in human cells. In response to DSBs, both HERC2 and RNF168 were specifically modified with SUMO1 at DSB sites in a manner dependent on the SUMO E3 ligase PIAS4. SUMOylation of HERC2 was required for its DSB-induced association with RNF8 and for stabilizing the RNF8–Ubc13 complex. We also demonstrate that the ZZ Zinc finger in HERC2 defined a novel SUMO-specific binding module, which together with its concomitant SUMOylation and T4827 phosphorylation promoted binding to RNF8. Our findings provide novel insight into the regulatory complexity of how ubiquitylation and SUMOylation cooperate to orchestrate protein interactions with DSB repair foci.
PMCID: PMC3328386  PMID: 22508508
13.  Human RAD18 Interacts with Ubiquitylated Chromatin Components and Facilitates RAD9 Recruitment to DNA Double Strand Breaks 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23155.
RAD18 is an ubiquitin ligase involved in replicative damage bypass and DNA double-strand break (DSB) repair processes. We found that RPA is required for the dynamic pattern of RAD18 localization during the cell cycle, and for accumulation of RAD18 at sites of γ-irradiation-induced DNA damage. In addition, RAD18 colocalizes with chromatin-associated conjugated ubiquitin and ubiquitylated H2A throughout the cell cycle and following irradiation. This localization pattern depends on the presence of an intact, ubiquitin-binding Zinc finger domain. Using a biochemical approach, we show that RAD18 directly binds to ubiquitylated H2A and several other unknown ubiquitylated chromatin components. This interaction also depends on the RAD18 Zinc finger, and increases upon the induction of DSBs by γ-irradiation. Intriguingly, RAD18 does not always colocalize with regions that show enhanced H2A ubiquitylation. In human female primary fibroblasts, where one of the two X chromosomes is inactivated to equalize X-chromosomal gene expression between male (XY) and female (XX) cells, this inactive X is enriched for ubiquitylated H2A, but only rarely accumulates RAD18. This indicates that the binding of RAD18 to ubiquitylated H2A is context-dependent. Regarding the functional relevance of RAD18 localization at DSBs, we found that RAD18 is required for recruitment of RAD9, one of the components of the 9-1-1 checkpoint complex, to these sites. Recruitment of RAD9 requires the functions of the RING and Zinc finger domains of RAD18. Together, our data indicate that association of RAD18 with DSBs through ubiquitylated H2A and other ubiquitylated chromatin components allows recruitment of RAD9, which may function directly in DSB repair, independent of downstream activation of the checkpoint kinases CHK1 and CHK2.
PMCID: PMC3157352  PMID: 21858012
14.  Defective Resection at DNA Double-Strand Breaks Leads to De Novo Telomere Formation and Enhances Gene Targeting 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(5):e1000948.
The formation of single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) at double-strand break (DSB) ends is essential in repair by homologous recombination and is mediated by DNA helicases and nucleases. Here we estimated the length of ssDNA generated during DSB repair and analyzed the consequences of elimination of processive resection pathways mediated by Sgs1 helicase and Exo1 nuclease on DSB repair fidelity. In wild-type cells during allelic gene conversion, an average of 2–4 kb of ssDNA accumulates at each side of the break. Longer ssDNA is formed during ectopic recombination or break-induced replication (BIR), reflecting much slower repair kinetics. This relatively extensive resection may help determine sequences involved in homology search and prevent recombination within short DNA repeats next to the break. In sgs1Δ exo1Δ mutants that form only very short ssDNA, allelic gene conversion decreases 5-fold and DSBs are repaired by BIR or de novo telomere formation resulting in loss of heterozygosity. The absence of the telomerase inhibitor, PIF1, increases de novo telomere pathway usage to about 50%. Accumulation of Cdc13, a protein recruiting telomerase, at the break site increases in sgs1Δ exo1Δ, and the requirement of the Ku complex for new telomere formation is partially bypassed. In contrast to this decreased and alternative DSB repair, the efficiency and accuracy of gene targeting increases dramatically in sgs1Δ exo1Δ cells, suggesting that transformed DNA is very stable in these mutants. Altogether these data establish a new role for processive resection in the fidelity of DSB repair.
Author Summary
Chromosomal breaks occur spontaneously or are induced by ionizing radiation and many chemotherapeutic drugs. DNA double-strand breaks are processed by nucleases and helicases in yeast and human to generate single-stranded DNA that is then used for repair by recombination with homologous chromosome. Single-stranded DNA at chromosomal breaks also constitutes a signal for cells to arrest cell cycle progression until the DNA damage is repaired. This study examines the consequences of elimination of enzymes that process chromosomal breaks to single-stranded DNA on the fidelity of repair and genome stability in the model organism yeast. Mutants deficient in these enzymes often fail to repair the breaks by homologous recombination and instead add new telomeres at the breaks. Formation of new telomeres is associated with partial loss of the chromosome arm distal from the break. Such chromosomal aberrations were frequently observed in tumor cells and are responsible for about 10% of human genomic disorders resulting from chromosomal abnormalities. We also observed that elimination of enzymes that process chromosomal breaks into single-stranded DNA greatly stimulates genome manipulation by gene targeting, suggesting that transformed DNA is also a substrate for degradation by these enzymes. We discuss the possibility of using a similar approach in mammalian cells where gene targeting is inaccurate and less efficient when compared to yeast.
PMCID: PMC2869328  PMID: 20485519
15.  A polycomb group protein, PHF1, is involved in the response to DNA double-strand breaks in human cell 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(9):2939-2947.
DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) represent the most toxic DNA damage arisen from endogenous and exogenous genotoxic stresses and are known to be repaired by either homologous recombination or nonhomologous end-joining processes. Although many proteins have been identified to participate in either of the processes, the whole processes still remain elusive. Polycomb group (PcG) proteins are epigenetic chromatin modifiers involved in gene silencing, cancer development and the maintenance of embryonic and adult stem cells. By screening proteins responding to DNA damage using laser micro-irradiation, we found that PHF1, a human homolog of Drosophila polycomb-like, Pcl, protein, was recruited to DSBs immediately after irradiation and dissociated within 10 min. The accumulation at DSBs is Ku70/Ku80-dependent, and knockdown of PHF1 leads to X-ray sensitivity and increases the frequency of homologous recombination in HeLa cell. We found that PHF1 interacts physically with Ku70/Ku80, suggesting that PHF1 promotes nonhomologous end-joining processes. Furthermore, we found that PHF1 interacts with a number of proteins involved in DNA damage responses, RAD50, SMC1, DHX9 and p53, further suggesting that PHF1, besides the function in PcG, is involved in genome maintenance processes.
PMCID: PMC2396414  PMID: 18385154
16.  Class switching and meiotic defects in mice lacking the E3 ubiquitin ligase RNF8 
53BP1 is a well-known mediator of the cellular response to DNA damage. Two alternative mechanisms have been proposed to explain 53BP1’s interaction with DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), one by binding to methylated histones and the other via an RNF8 E3 ligase–dependent ubiquitylation pathway. The formation of RNF8 and 53BP1 irradiation-induced foci are both dependent on histone H2AX. To evaluate the contribution of the RNF8-dependent pathway to 53BP1 function, we generated RNF8 knockout mice. We report that RNF8 deficiency results in defective class switch recombination (CSR) and accumulation of unresolved immunoglobulin heavy chain–associated DSBs. The CSR DSB repair defect is milder than that observed in the absence of 53BP1 but similar to that found in H2AX−/− mice. Moreover, similar to H2AX but different from 53BP1 deficiency, RNF8−/− males are sterile, and this is associated with defective ubiquitylation of the XY chromatin. Combined loss of H2AX and RNF8 does not cause further impairment in CSR, demonstrating that the two genes function epistatically. Importantly, although 53BP1 foci formation is RNF8 dependent, its binding to chromatin is preserved in the absence of RNF8. This suggests a two-step mechanism for 53BP1 association with chromatin in which constitutive loading is dependent on interactions with methylated histones, whereas DNA damage–inducible RNF8-dependent ubiquitylation allows its accumulation at damaged chromatin.
PMCID: PMC2867275  PMID: 20385748
17.  A Role for the Malignant Brain Tumour (MBT) Domain Protein LIN-61 in DNA Double-Strand Break Repair by Homologous Recombination 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(3):e1003339.
Malignant brain tumour (MBT) domain proteins are transcriptional repressors that function within Polycomb complexes. Some MBT genes are tumour suppressors, but how they prevent tumourigenesis is unknown. The Caenorhabditis elegans MBT protein LIN-61 is a member of the synMuvB chromatin-remodelling proteins that control vulval development. Here we report a new role for LIN-61: it protects the genome by promoting homologous recombination (HR) for the repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). lin-61 mutants manifest numerous problems associated with defective HR in germ and somatic cells but remain proficient in meiotic recombination. They are hypersensitive to ionizing radiation and interstrand crosslinks but not UV light. Using a novel reporter system that monitors repair of a defined DSB in C. elegans somatic cells, we show that LIN-61 contributes to HR. The involvement of this MBT protein in HR raises the possibility that MBT–deficient tumours may also have defective DSB repair.
Author Summary
The genome is continually under threat from exogenous sources of DNA damage, as well as from sources that originate within the cell. DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are arguably the most problematic type of damage as they can cause dangerous chromosome rearrangements, which can lead to cancer, as well as mutation at the break site and/or cell death. A complex network of molecular pathways, collectively referred to as the DNA damage response (DDR), have evolved to protect the cell from these threats. We have discovered a new DDR factor, LIN-61, that promotes the repair of DSBs. This is a novel and unexpected role for LIN-61, which was previously known to act as a regulator of gene transcription during development.
PMCID: PMC3591299  PMID: 23505385
18.  Rnf8 deficiency impairs class switch recombination, spermatogenesis, and genomic integrity and predisposes for cancer 
Signaling and repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are critical for preventing immunodeficiency and cancer. These DNA breaks result from exogenous and endogenous DNA insults but are also programmed to occur during physiological processes such as meiosis and immunoglobulin heavy chain (IgH) class switch recombination (CSR). Recent studies reported that the E3 ligase RNF8 plays important roles in propagating DNA DSB signals and thereby facilitating the recruitment of various DNA damage response proteins, such as 53BP1 and BRCA1, to sites of damage. Using mouse models for Rnf8 mutation, we report that Rnf8 deficiency leads to impaired spermatogenesis and increased sensitivity to ionizing radiation both in vitro and in vivo. We also demonstrate the existence of alternative Rnf8-independent mechanisms that respond to irradiation and accounts for the partial recruitment of 53bp1 to sites of DNA damage in activated Rnf8−/− B cells. Remarkably, IgH CSR is impaired in a gene dose-dependent manner in Rnf8 mutant mice, revealing that these mice are immunodeficient. In addition, Rnf8−/− mice exhibit increased genomic instability and elevated risks for tumorigenesis indicating that Rnf8 is a novel tumor suppressor. These data unravel the in vivo pleiotropic effects of Rnf8.
PMCID: PMC2867283  PMID: 20385750
19.  BRIT1/MCPH1 Is Essential for Mitotic and Meiotic Recombination DNA Repair and Maintaining Genomic Stability in Mice 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(1):e1000826.
BRIT1 protein (also known as MCPH1) contains 3 BRCT domains which are conserved in BRCA1, BRCA2, and other important molecules involved in DNA damage signaling, DNA repair, and tumor suppression. BRIT1 mutations or aberrant expression are found in primary microcephaly patients as well as in cancer patients. Recent in vitro studies suggest that BRIT1/MCPH1 functions as a novel key regulator in the DNA damage response pathways. To investigate its physiological role and dissect the underlying mechanisms, we generated BRIT1−/− mice and identified its essential roles in mitotic and meiotic recombination DNA repair and in maintaining genomic stability. Both BRIT1−/− mice and mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) were hypersensitive to γ-irradiation. BRIT1−/− MEFs and T lymphocytes exhibited severe chromatid breaks and reduced RAD51 foci formation after irradiation. Notably, BRIT1−/− mice were infertile and meiotic homologous recombination was impaired. BRIT1-deficient spermatocytes exhibited a failure of chromosomal synapsis, and meiosis was arrested at late zygotene of prophase I accompanied by apoptosis. In mutant spermatocytes, DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) were formed, but localization of RAD51 or BRCA2 to meiotic chromosomes was severely impaired. In addition, we found that BRIT1 could bind to RAD51/BRCA2 complexes and that, in the absence of BRIT1, recruitment of RAD51 and BRCA2 to chromatin was reduced while their protein levels were not altered, indicating that BRIT1 is involved in mediating recruitment of RAD51/BRCA2 to the damage site. Collectively, our BRIT1-null mouse model demonstrates that BRIT1 is essential for maintaining genomic stability in vivo to protect the hosts from both programmed and irradiation-induced DNA damages, and its depletion causes a failure in both mitotic and meiotic recombination DNA repair via impairing RAD51/BRCA2's function and as a result leads to infertility and genomic instability in mice.
Author Summary
The repair of DNA breaks in cells is critical for maintaining genomic integrity and suppressing tumor development. DNA breaks can arise from exogenous agents such as ionizing radiation (IR) or can form during the process of germ cell (sperm and egg) generation. BRIT1 protein (also known as MCPH1) is a recently identified DNA damage responding protein, and its mutations or reduced expression are found in primary microcephaly (small brain) patients, as well as in cancer patients. To investigate BRIT1's physiological functions and dissect the underlying molecular mechanism, we used a genetic approach (gene targeting technology) to delete BRIT1 gene in mice and generated a mouse model with BRIT1 deficiency (called BRIT1-knockout mice). Here, we showed that BRIT1 knockout mice are more sensitive to IR due to their inability to repair the IR-induced DNA breaks. These mice are also infertile, and their DNA repair during the process of germ cell generation was impaired substantially. Thus, in this study, we generated a novel mouse model (BRIT1 knockout mice) with striking phenotypes related to defective DNA repair and clearly demonstrated the essential role of BRIT1 in DNA repair at organism level.
PMCID: PMC2809772  PMID: 20107607
20.  Chromatin dynamics and the repair of DNA double strand breaks 
Cell Cycle  2011;10(2):261-267.
DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) arise through both replication errors and from exogenous events such as exposure to ionizing radiation. DSBs are potentially lethal, and cells have evolved a highly conserved mechanism to detect and repair these lesions. This mechanism involves phosphorylation of histone H2AX (γH2AX) and the loading of DNA repair proteins onto the chromatin adjacent to the DSB. It is now clear that the chromatin architecture in the region surrounding the DSB has a critical impact on the ability of cells to mount an effective DNA damage response. DSBs promote the formation of open, relaxed chromatin domains which are spatially confined to the area surrounding the break. These relaxed chromatin structures are created through the coupled action of the p400 SWI/SNF ATPase and histone acetylation by the Tip60 acetyltransferase. The resulting destabilization of nucleosomes at the DSB by Tip60 and p400 is required for ubiquitination of the chromatin by the RNF8 ubiquitin ligase, and for the subsequent recruitment of the brca1 complex. Chromatin dynamics at DSBs can therefore exert a powerful influence on the process of DSB repair. Further, there is emerging evidence that the different chromatin structures in the cell, such as heterochromatin and euchromatin, utilize distinct remodeling complexes and pathways to facilitate DSB. The processing and repair of DSB is therefore critically influenced by the nuclear architecture in which the lesion arises.
PMCID: PMC3048797  PMID: 21212734
p400; chromatin remodeling; DNA repair; NuA4; H2AX; acetylation; nucleosome; tip60
21.  The Role of ATM in the Deficiency in Nonhomologous End-Joining near Telomeres in a Human Cancer Cell Line 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(3):e1003386.
Telomeres distinguish chromosome ends from double-strand breaks (DSBs) and prevent chromosome fusion. However, telomeres can also interfere with DNA repair, as shown by a deficiency in nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ) and an increase in large deletions at telomeric DSBs. The sensitivity of telomeric regions to DSBs is important in the cellular response to ionizing radiation and oncogene-induced replication stress, either by preventing cell division in normal cells, or by promoting chromosome instability in cancer cells. We have previously proposed that the telomeric protein TRF2 causes the sensitivity of telomeric regions to DSBs, either through its inhibition of ATM, or by promoting the processing of DSBs as though they are telomeres, which is independent of ATM. Our current study addresses the mechanism responsible for the deficiency in repair of DSBs near telomeres by combining assays for large deletions, NHEJ, small deletions, and gross chromosome rearrangements (GCRs) to compare the types of events resulting from DSBs at interstitial and telomeric DSBs. Our results confirm the sensitivity of telomeric regions to DSBs by demonstrating that the frequency of GCRs is greatly increased at DSBs near telomeres and that the role of ATM in DSB repair is very different at interstitial and telomeric DSBs. Unlike at interstitial DSBs, a deficiency in ATM decreases NHEJ and small deletions at telomeric DSBs, while it increases large deletions. These results strongly suggest that ATM is functional near telomeres and is involved in end protection at telomeric DSBs, but is not required for the extensive resection at telomeric DSBs. The results support our model in which the deficiency in DSB repair near telomeres is a result of ATM-independent processing of DSBs as though they are telomeres, leading to extensive resection, telomere loss, and GCRs involving alternative NHEJ.
Author Summary
The ends of chromosomes, called telomeres, prevent chromosome ends from appearing as DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) and prevent chromosome fusion by forming a specialized nucleo-protein complex. The critical function of telomeres in end protection has a downside, in that it interferes with the repair of DSBs that occur near telomeres. DSBs are critical DNA lesions, because if they are not repaired correctly they can result in gross chromosome rearrangements (GCRs). As a result, the deficiency in DSB repair near telomeres has now been implicated in ageing, by promoting cell senescence, and cancer, by promoting telomere dysfunction due to oncogene-induced replication stress. The studies presented here demonstrate that DSBs near telomeres commonly result in GCRs in a human tumor cell line. Moreover, our results demonstrate that the mechanism of repair of telomeric DSBs is very different from the mechanism of repair of DSBs at other locations, supporting our hypothesis that the deficiency in repair of DSBs near telomeres is a result of the abnormal processing of DSBs due to the presence of telomeric proteins. Understanding the mechanism responsible for the deficiency in DSB repair near telomeres will provide important insights into critical human disease pathways.
PMCID: PMC3610639  PMID: 23555296
22.  A small ubiquitin binding domain inhibits ubiquitin-dependent protein recruitment to DNA repair foci 
Cell Cycle  2013;12(24):3749-3758.
The rapid ubiquitination of chromatin surrounding DNA double-stranded breaks (DSB) drives the formation of large structures called ionizing radiation-induced foci (IRIF), comprising many DNA damage response (DDR) proteins. This process is regulated by RNF8 and RNF168 ubiquitin ligases and is thought to be necessary for DNA repair and activation of signaling pathways involved in regulating cell cycle checkpoints. Here we demonstrate that it is possible to interfere with ubiquitin-dependent recruitment of DDR factors by expressing proteins containing ubiquitin binding domains (UBDs) that bind to lysine 63-linked polyubiquitin chains. Expression of the E3 ubiquitin ligase RAD18 prevented chromatin spreading of 53BP1 at DSBs, and this phenomenon was dependent upon the integrity of the RAD18 UBD. An isolated RAD18 UBD interfered with 53BP1 chromatin spreading, as well as other important DDR mediators, including RAP80 and the BRCA1 tumor suppressor protein, consistent with the model that the RAD18 UBD is blocking access of proteins to ubiquitinated chromatin. Using the RAD18 UBD as a tool to impede localization of 53BP1 and BRCA1 to repair foci, we found that DDR signaling, DNA DSB repair, and radiosensitivity were unaffected. We did find that activated ATM (S1981P) and phosphorylated SMC1 (a specific target of ATM) were not detectable in DNA repair foci, in addition to upregulated homologous recombination repair, revealing 2 DDR responses that are dependent upon chromatin spreading of certain DDR factors at DSBs. These data demonstrate that select UBDs containing targeting motifs may be useful probes in determining the biological significance of protein–ubiquitin interactions.
PMCID: PMC3905067  PMID: 24107634
ubiquitin; RAD18; RAP80; BRCA1; ATM; DNA damage response; homologous recombination
23.  Methylated H3K4, a Transcription-Associated Histone Modification, Is Involved in the DNA Damage Response Pathway 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(8):e1001082.
Eukaryotic genomes are associated with a number of proteins such as histones that constitute chromatin. Post-translational histone modifications are associated with regulatory aspects executed by chromatin and all transactions on genomic DNA are dependent on them. Thus, it will be relevant to understand how histone modifications affect genome functions. Here we show that the mono ubiquitylation of histone H2B and the tri-methylation of histone H3 on lysine 4 (H3K4me3), both known for their involvement in transcription, are also important for a proper response of budding yeast cells to DNA damaging agents and the passage through S-phase. Cells that cannot methylate H3K4 display a defect in double-strand break (DSB) repair by non-homologous end joining. Furthermore, if such cells incur DNA damage or encounter a stress during replication, they very rapidly lose viability, underscoring the functional importance of the modification. Remarkably, the Set1p methyltransferase as well as the H3K4me3 mark become detectable on a newly created DSB. This recruitment of Set1p to the DSB is dependent on the presence of the RSC complex, arguing for a contribution in the ensuing DNA damage repair process. Taken together, our results demonstrate that Set1p and its substrate H3K4me3, which has been reported to be important for the transcription of active genes, also plays an important role in genome stability of yeast cells. Given the high degree of conservation for the methyltransferase and the histone mark in a broad variety of organisms, these results could have similar implications for genome stability mechanisms in vertebrate and mammalian cells.
Author Summary
Over the last years, it has become evident that chromatin plays a crucial role in a variety of cellular processes. Insights into the tight regulation of chromatin opening and closing via chromatin remodelers, as well as post-translational modifications of proteins making up chromatin, have revealed new facets on the mechanisms used by cells in order to replicate, transcribe, or repair their DNA. In this report, we describe the involvement of a transcription-linked histone modification, methylation of histone H3 on lysine 4, in the DNA damage repair process. We discovered that in addition to its presence at promoters of highly transcribed genes, H3K4me3 is recruited to sites of newly created double-stranded breaks. Moreover, the results show that this recruitment is dependent on a chromatin remodeler, namely the RSC complex. Cells lacking this histone modification display similar defects as those devoid of the RSC complex; i.e. a significant decrease in the repair of DNA breaks by the non-homologous end-joining repair pathway and a difficulty to survive in presence of replication stresses. All these observations highlight the importance of this conserved histone modification, given that it is involved in a variety of mechanisms affecting genome function.
PMCID: PMC2928815  PMID: 20865123
24.  Bmi-1 induces radioresistance in MCF-7 mammary carcinoma cells 
Oncology Reports  2011;27(4):1116-1122.
Bmi-1, a member of the polycomb family, it is involved in self renewal of stem cells and functions as an oncogene in many malignant human cancer types. Recent studies have demonstrated that Bmi-1 is a predictive factor for poor patient prognosis. However, the underlying mechanisms of radioresistance mediated by Bmi-1 are poorly understood. In this study, the dose-survival relationship was analyzed using a clonogenic survival assay and combined radiation treatment with Bmi-1 overexpression or silencing. DNA double-strand break (DSB) and repair was assessed by immunofluorescence staining of γH2AX foci. In addition, mitochondrial membrane potential was detected between Bmi-1 knockdown and control MCF-7 cells after irradiation. Apoptosis and cell cycle were evaluated by flow cytometry. We found that exposure of MCF-7 cells overexpressing Bmi-1 to ionizing radiation resulted in dramatically enhanced survival relative to control cells, whereas cells with silenced Bmi-1 showed markedly reduced survival. Bmi-1 inhibition significantly increased DSBs and decreased DSB repair. Furthermore, Bmi-1 knockdown induced loss of mitochondrial membrane potential and enhanced apoptosis by up-regulating p53, p21, Bax expression and down-regulating p-AKT and Bcl-2 expression. These results indicate that Bmi-1 may play an important role in radiosensitivity, and the suppression of its expression might be a potential therapeutic target for breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3583403  PMID: 22209830
Bmi-1; radioresistance; mammary carcinoma cells
25.  The RSF1 Histone-Remodelling Factor Facilitates DNA Double-Strand Break Repair by Recruiting Centromeric and Fanconi Anaemia Proteins 
PLoS Biology  2014;12(5):e1001856.
RSF1, a new player in the cellular responses to DNA double-strand breaks, sequentially recruits centromeric histone-like proteins and DNA repair proteins from the Fanconi anaemia pathway.
ATM is a central regulator of the cellular responses to DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). Here we identify a biochemical interaction between ATM and RSF1 and we characterise the role of RSF1 in this response. The ATM–RSF1 interaction is dependent upon both DSBs and ATM kinase activity. Together with SNF2H/SMARCA5, RSF1 forms the RSF chromatin-remodelling complex. Although RSF1 is specific to the RSF complex, SNF2H/SMARCA5 is a catalytic subunit of several other chromatin-remodelling complexes. Although not required for checkpoint signalling, RSF1 is required for efficient repair of DSBs via both end-joining and homology-directed repair. Specifically, the ATM-dependent recruitment to sites of DSBs of the histone fold proteins CENPS/MHF1 and CENPX/MHF2, previously identified at centromeres, is RSF1-dependent. In turn these proteins recruit and regulate the mono-ubiquitination of the Fanconi Anaemia proteins FANCD2 and FANCI. We propose that by depositing CENPS/MHF1 and CENPX/MHF2, the RSF complex either directly or indirectly contributes to the reorganisation of chromatin around DSBs that is required for efficient DNA repair.
Author Summary
DNA carries all the information necessary for life; thus damage or loss of genetic material can result in cell death or cancer. The worst-case insult to genetic information is a DNA double-strand break, caused by agents either within the cell (e.g., by-products of respiration, errors of DNA replication) or from outside (e.g., ionizing radiation). Ataxia telangiectasia kinase (ATM) and the Fanconi anaemia proteins perform housekeeping roles in the cell, recognising aberrant DNA structures and promoting their repair. Mutations that affect these proteins are responsible for the eponymous genetic syndromes that are characterised by elevated mutation rate, increased cancer risk, developmental defects, and shortened life span. In this work we identify and characterise a novel link between these two central players in the DNA damage response. We show that the Remodelling and Spacing Factor 1 (RSF1) protein, which can reorganise the compaction of DNA to allow access for other proteins, requires ATM for its function after DNA damage. Specifically, RSF1 recruits two centromeric histone-like proteins that in turn promote mono-ubiquitination and recruitment to sites of damage of FANCD2 and FANCI—two proteins that belong to the Fanconi anaemia pathway. Absence of RSF1 results in defective repair of double-strand DNA breaks, prolonged arrest of the cell cycle, and cell death. Our study suggests that ATM-dependent regulation of the RSF chromatin-remodelling complex is necessary during double-strand break repair to recruit centromeric histones and then Fanconi anaemia proteins.
PMCID: PMC4011676  PMID: 24800743

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