The ATM protein kinase is a master regulator of the cellular response to chromosomal DNA double-strand breaks. This type of DNA damage occurs during DNA replication, as a result of damage from metabolic intermediates, and after exposure to ionizing radiation and radiomimetic compounds. In response to DNA damage, ATM phosphorylates many cellular substrates, several of which are known tumor suppressors in humans. Phosphorylation of these substrates initiates cell cycle arrest, apoptosis, and DNA repair. Loss of ATM, as seen in patients with Ataxia-Telangiectasia (A-T), results in increased genomic instability, a complete loss of double-strand break-induced cell cycle checkpoints, and a significant increase in cancer frequency. A-T patients also suffer from severely reduced responses to oxidative stress as well as to DNA double-strand breaks, and chronic oxidative stress has been shown to contribute to neurodegeneration seen in these patients. The ATM protein in mammalian cells exists as an inactive homodimer and becomes activated by DNA double-strand breaks through association with the DNA repair complex Mre11/Rad50/Nbs1 (MRN). In previous work we have reconstituted the ATM activation process with recombinant purified proteins and showed that MRN acts as a double-strand break sensor for ATM. In the current proposal we use this system to characterize the mechanisms of ATM activation in greater detail and investigate novel pathways of ATM regulation.
Specific Aim 1 addresses the molecular basis of ATM activation through oxidative damage and seeks to identify ATM domains and residues involved in this process. Analysis of specific mutants deficient in oxidative activation will be used to investigate the functions of this pathway in human cells.
Aim 2 investigates the mechanistic role of Nbs1 in ATM activation by double-strand breaks and addresses the functional relationship between MRN and ATM in greater detail through the identification of MRN-ATM protein-protein interactions and ATM homodimerization motifs.
Aim 3 characterizes the roles of other proteins that are known to regulate ATM activation and substrate phosphorylation in human cells, and investigates the functional effects of ATM acetylation and autophosphorylation. The overall goal of the project is to biochemically decipher the many layers of regulation that govern ATM activity in human cells in order to understand how this important protein responds so rapidly and specifically to DNA double-strand breaks and oxidative stress.
The ATM protein kinase is activated by DNA damage to initiate cell cycle arrest, programmed cell death, and DNA repair. These responses are essential for preventing oncogenic transformation in humans, and loss of ATM has been shown to promote tumorigenesis. Greater understanding of the mechanisms of ATM activation is essential for our understanding of the primary cellular defense against genomic instability and tumor progression.
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