Purpose: To provide an update on the product of the ATM gene mutated in the human genetic disorder ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T).
Summary: The product of the ATM gene mutated in the human genetic disorder A-T is a 350 kDa protein that plays a central role in the regulation of a number of cellular processes. It is a member of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase superfamily, but is more likely a protein kinase similar to another member of that family, i.e. DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK). A-T cells and fibroblasts derived from the atm -/- mouse are hypersensitive to ionizing radiation and defective in cell cycle checkpoint control. At present the nature of the lesion in damaged DNA recognized by ATM remains uncertain, but it is evident that a small number of residual strand breaks remain unrepaired in A-T cells, which may well account for the radiosensitivity. On the other hand, considerable progress has been achieved in delineating the role of ATM in cell cycle checkpoint control. Defects are observed at all cell cycle checkpoints in A-T cells post-irradiation. At the G1 /S interface ATM has been shown to play a central role in radiation-induced activation of the tumour suppressor gene product p53. ATM binds to p53 in a complex fashion and activates the molecule in response to breaks in DNA by phosphorylating it at serine 15 close to the N-terminus and by controlling other phosphorylation and dephosphorylation changes on the molecule. This in turn leads to the induction of p21/WAF1 and other p53 effector proteins before inhibition of cyclin-dependent kinase activity and G1 arrest. Emerging evidence supports a direct role for ATM at other cell cycle checkpoints. Other proteins interacting with ATM include c-Abl a protein tyrosine kinase, beta-adaptin an endosomal protein and p21 a downstream effector of p53. The significance of these interactions is currently being investigated. ATM also plays an important role in the regulation and surveillance of meiotic progression. The localization of ATM to both the nucleus and other subcellular organelles implicates this molecule in a myriad of cellular processes.
Conclusion: ATM is involved in DNA damage recognition and cell cycle control in response to ionizing radiation damage. There is evidence that ATM may also have a more general signalling role.