The DNA dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK) is central in non-homologous end joining (NHEJ), one of two major double strand break repair (DSBR) pathways in eukaryotes. DNA-PK recognizes double strand breaks (DSBs) and targets other factors to the site of damage. DNA-PK's enzymatic activity is critical to its function in NHEJ;however, to date, the catalytic subunit of DNA-PK (DNA-PKcs) itself is the only NHEJ factor known to be a functionally relevant target of its own enzymatic activity. Autophosphorylation of DNA-PKcs occurs on many sites, and is functionally complex;distinct phosphorylation events have distinct functional consequences. Phosphorylation within two major clusters allows the kinase to regulate (both positively and negatively) access of the damaged DNA to other NHEJ factors as well as to other DNA repair pathways, especially the other major DSBR pathway, homologous recombination (HR). Additional DNA-PK phosphorylation events are required for subsequent steps in NHEJ including kinase dissociation and inactivation. The first two aims of the proposed research will explore 1) how DNA-PK regulates DNA end access and 2) define and characterize other DNA-PK phosphorylation events that are required during DNA repair.
The third aim will focus on how DNA-PK regulates DSBR pathway choice, and characterize the biologic consequence of this choice in living animals. For one type of double strand break, there is no choice;DSBs introduced during VDJ recombination by the RAG endonuclease are exclusively repaired by NHEJ. Preliminary data suggest that the RAG complex targets its DSBs to NHEJ by interaction with DNA-PK.
The fourth aim will characterize how RAG induced breaks are restricted to the NHEJ pathway.There is an emerging consensus that the DNA dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK) is more stringently required in some species than in others, and it seems likely that DNA-PK deficiency is not compatible with human life. Understanding how this large complex functions to coordinate DNA repair by the non-homologous end joining pathway and potentially regulate access of DNA lesions to other repair pathways should provide fundamental knowledge of how DNA-PK promotes genomic stability.
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