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ERC

TRANSDAM Report Summary

Project ID: 693327
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TRANSDAM (The transcription-related DNA damage response)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-02-28

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Our cells respond to DNA damage, such as that induced by exposure to UV-irradiation, but the response remains enigmatic despite decades of study. The effect of such damage on transcription of genes is particularly complex. At the local level, bulky DNA lesions cause stalling of the RNA polymerase (RNAPII), resulting in a block to transcript production. Damage-stalled RNAPII functions as a 'molecular beacon' that triggers rapid repair, so-called transcription-coupled repair, the process whereby DNA damage in active genes is preferentially removed. Importantly, however, UV-damage also affects transcription genome-wide, so that even genes that are not damaged temporarily cease to be active. Understanding the cellular pathways and molecular mechanisms that underlie these responses is the aim of our ERC-funded research. Given that a number of human diseases are caused by defects in correctly responding to DNA damage, we expect that our results will also help shed new light on the disease mechanisms and in time on how to successfully treat them.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

In order to facilitate identification of new factors and mechanisms involved in this response, we have performed several distinct biological screens in parallel (proteomic and genomic screens). This was complemented by characterization of transcription and mRNA splicing after UV damage by various genome-wide techniques. Our 'multi-omic' approach explores the same process from various angles and places less emphasis on hits from an individual screen and instead focuses on factors that score in several screens. This has resulted in the identification of several new factors and unexplored mechanisms. We now investigate the function of several of these factors by the use of a multi-disciplinary approach, including biochemical and cell biological approaches as well as proteomics and genomics. One of these studies have already been published (Williamson et al., Cell 2017; 168, p843-855). Here we show that, at the level of gene expression, the UV damage response is associated with a shift from expression of long messenger RNAs (mRNAs) to shorter RNA transcript isoforms, due to alternative RNA splicing. Notably, this includes a shift from a protein-coding ASCC3 mRNA to a shorter ASCC3 transcript isoform of which the 3’-noncoding region, rather than an encoded protein, is critical for transcription recovery after DNA damage. This study provides the first clear example of a gene that can encode both a protein (via its mRNA) and a regulatory, non-coding, RNA.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Our ongoing work is uncovering several new ways in which cells respond to UV damage, both at the level of gene transcription, and at the level of protein modification and stability. The coming period should see more of this work coming to fruition and it is our expectation that our results will have a great impact on our general understanding of the cellular DNA damage response.
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