Background: The DNA replication checkpoint ensures that mitosis is not initiated before DNA synthesis is completed. Recent studies using Xenopus extracts have demonstrated that activation of the replication checkpoint and phosphorylation of the Chk1 kinase are dependent on RNA primer synthesis by DNA polymerase alpha, and it has been suggested that the ATR kinase-so-called because it is related to the product of the gene that is mutated in ataxia telangiectasia (ATM) and to Rad3 kinase-may be an upstream component of this response. It has been difficult to test this hypothesis as an ATR-deficient system suitable for biochemical studies has not been available.
Results: We have cloned the Xenopus laevis homolog of ATR (XATR) and studied the function of the protein in Xenopus egg extracts. Using a chromatin-binding assay, we found that ATR associates with chromatin after initiation of replication, dissociates from chromatin upon completion of replication, and accumulates in the presence of aphidicolin, an inhibitor of DNA replication. Its association with chromatin was inhibited by treatment with actinomycin D, an inhibitor of RNA primase. There was an early rise in the activity of Cdc2-cyclin B in egg extracts depleted of ATR both in the presence or absence of aphidicolin. In addition, the premature mitosis observed upon depletion of ATR was accompanied by the loss of Chk1 phosphorylation.
Conclusions: ATR is a replication-dependent chromatin-binding protein, and its association with chromatin is dependent on RNA synthesis by DNA polymerase alpha. Depletion of ATR leads to premature mitosis in the presence and absence of aphidicolin, indicating that ATR is required for the DNA replication checkpoint.