Chromosomal DNA is continuously subjected to exogenous and endogenous damaging insults. In the presence of DNA damage cells activate a multi-faceted checkpoint response that delays cell cycle progression and promotes DNA repair. Failures in this response lead to genomic instability, the main feature of cancer cells. Several cancer-prone human syndromes including the Ataxia teleangiectasia (A-T), the A-T Like Disorder (ATLD) and the Seckel Syndrome reflect defects in the specific genes of the DNA damage response such as ATM, MRE11 and ATR. DNA damage response pathways are poorly understood at biochemical level in vertebrate organisms. We have established a cell-free system based on Xenopus laevis egg extract to study molecular events underlying DNA damage response. This is the first in vitro system that recapitulates different aspects of the DNA damage response in vertebrates. Using this system we propose to study the biochemistry of the ATM, ATR and the Mre11 complex dependent DNA damage response. In particular we will: 1) Dissect the signal transduction pathway that senses DNA damage and promotes cell cycle arrest and DNA damage repair; 2) Analyze at molecular level the role of ATM, ATR, Mre11 in chromosomal DNA replication and mitosis during normal and stressful conditions; 3) Identify substrates of the ATM and ATR dependent DNA damage response using an innovative screening procedure.
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