Initiation of eukaryotic DNA replication: regulation and mechanisms

Prog Nucleic Acid Res Mol Biol. 2002;72:41-94. doi: 10.1016/s0079-6603(02)72067-9.


The accurate and timely duplication of the genome is a major task for eukaryotic cells. This process requires the cooperation of multiple factors to ensure the stability of the genetic information of each cell. Mutations, rearrangements, or loss of chromosomes can be detrimental to a single cell as well as to the whole organism, causing failures, disease, or death. Because of the size of eukaryotic genomes, chromosomal duplication is accomplished in a multiparallel process. In human somatic cells between 10,000 and 100,000 parallel synthesis sites are present. This raises fundamental problems for eukaryotic cells to coordinate the start of DNA replication at each origin and to prevent replication of already duplicated DNA regions. Since these general phenomena were recognized in the middle of the 20th century the regulation and mechanisms of the initiation of eukaryotic DNA replication have been intensively investigated. These studies were carried out to find the essential factors involved in the process and to determine their functions during DNA replication. These studies gave rise to a model of the organization and the coordination of DNA replication within the eukaryotic cell. The elegant experiments carried out by Rao and Johnson (1970) (1), who fused cells in different phases of the cell cycle, showed that G1 cells are competent for replication of their chromosomes, but lack a specific diffusible factor required to activate their replicaton machinery and showed that G2 cells are incompetent for DNA replication. These findings suggested that eukaryotic cells exist in two states. In G1 phase, cells are competent to initiate DNA replication, which is subsequently triggered in S phase. After completion of S phase, cells in G2 are no longer able to initiate DNA replication and they require a transition through mitosis to reenable initiation of DNA replication to take place in the next S phase. The Xenopus cell-free replication system has proved a good model system in which to study DNA replication in vitro as well as the mechanism preventing rereplication within a single cell cycle (2). Studies using this system resulted in the development of a model postulating the existence of a replication licensing factor, which binds to chromatin before the G1-S transition and which is displaced during replication (2, 3). These results were supported by genetic and biochemical experiments in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (budding yeast) and Schizosaccharomyces pombe (fission yeast) (4, 5). The investigation of cell division cycle mutants and the budding yeast origin of replication resulted in the concept of a prereplicative and a postreplicative complex of initiation proteins (6-9). These three individual concepts have recently started to merge and it has become obvious that initiation in eukaryotes is generally governed by the same ubiquitous mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle / genetics
  • Cell Cycle / physiology*
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • DNA Replication / physiology*
  • Eukaryotic Cells
  • Humans


  • Chromatin