In eukaryotic cells, checkpoint control mechanisms prevent cell division if the genome contains stalled DNA replication forks or damaged DNA. Checkpoint pathways contain various proteins that detect problems in the genome and thereupon activate kinase-signaling pathways that control cell cycle progression. In vertebrates, the master regulatory kinase ATR functions at the apex of key checkpoint responses. ATR phosphorylates the checkpoint effector kinase Chk1 with the assistance of the mediator protein Claspin. The phosphorylated, activated form of Chk1 modulates the activity of pivotal cell cycle control enzymes in order to prohibit mitotic entry. ATR possesses a binding partner called ATRIP that interacts directly with RPA. This property enables the ATR-ATRIP complex to accumulate at various DNA lesions that share RPA-coated, single- stranded DNA as an important structural feature. However, the association of ATR-ATRIP with RPA-coated DNA is not sufficient for its activation. This observation suggested that ATR-ATRIP must interact with one or more additional components at DNA lesions in order to undergo checkpoint-dependent stimulation of its kinase activity. Recently, it has been shown that a protein known as TopBP1 functions as the direct upstream activator of the ATR-ATRIP complex. TopBP1 is a multi-functional protein that is necessary for both DNA replication and checkpoint control. Moreover, the association of TopBP1 with the checkpoint clamp comprised of Rad9-Hus1-Rad1 (the 9-1-1 complex) regulates the interaction of TopBP1 with ATR- ATRIP. These studies have revealed critical early steps in the initiation of checkpoint responses. In the upcoming grant period, a variety of studies will be carried out to examine the structure, function, and regulation of TopBP1. These investigations will be performed mostly with Xenopus egg extracts, a system that allows detailed biochemical analysis of checkpoint control mechanisms. This system also provides an excellent model for checkpoint regulation in human cells. Structure-function analyses will be carried out to elucidate the various functional domains of TopBP1 and their contribution to its regulation. In addition, mechanistic studies will be conducted to reveal how the 9-1-1 complex regulates the ability of TopBP1 to carry out the activation of ATR-ATRIP. A newly identified regulatory interaction between TopBP1 and the Mre11-Rad50-Nbs1 (MRN) complex will be also investigated. Finally, novel interactions and functions of TopBP1 at stalled replication forks will be explored. Through the study of TopBP1 in a vertebrate system that is amenable to intensive functional analysis, important insights may be gleaned into the mechanisms by which animal cells prevent the occurrence of chromosomal aberrations.
Cells utilize intricate surveillance or checkpoint mechanisms to ensure that their genetic material remains intact throughout life. If these regulatory mechanisms do not function properly, cells accumulate defects in their chromosomes that may ultimately result in cancer. Therefore, a thorough knowledge of checkpoint mechanisms is essential for understanding the root causes of cancer.
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