BRCA1 haploinsufficiency, but not heterozygosity for a BRCA1-truncating mutation, deregulates homologous recombination

Cell Cycle. 2007 Apr 15;6(8):962-71. doi: 10.4161/cc.6.8.4105. Epub 2007 Apr 2.


Humans heterozygous for BRCA1 mutations have a high risk of losing the remaining wild-type BRCA1 allele and developing breast/ovarian cancer, but a molecular basis for this has not yet been determined. It is thought that heterozygosity status-reduced wild-type BRCA1 protein dosage (haploinsufficiency) and/or the presence of a mutant BRCA1 protein-may affect BRCA1 functions and heighten the risk of cancer promoting mutations. BRCA1 maintains genome stability, at least in part, by regulating homologous recombination according to the type of DNA damage. To investigate whether this BRCA1 function is affected by heterozygosity status, we employed, as recombination reporters, human breast cancer MCF-7 cells known to have a single wild-type BRCA1 allele and reduced BRCA1 protein dosage. These cells revealed: (1) a spontaneous hyper-recombination phenotype; (2) reduced efficiency in homologous recombination repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs); and (3) sensitivity to the DSB-inducing chemotherapeutic agent mitomycin C. Correction of BRCA1 protein dosage to the wild-type level reversed all these phenotypes, whereas physiological expression of the cancer-eliciting BRCA1 5382insC mutant allele had no effect on either phenotype. These findings implicate BRCA1 C-terminal domain in recombination control, and indicate that BRCA1 haploinsufficiency alone, which is also a feature of sporadic breast/ovarian cancer, is sufficient to compromise genome stability by triggering spontaneous recombination events that are likely to account for the loss of the remaining wild-type BRCA1 allele and increased cancer risk. Our observations may also have implications for the medical management of cancer patients and cancer prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • BRCA1 Protein / chemistry
  • BRCA1 Protein / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Codon, Nonsense / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Loss of Heterozygosity
  • Models, Genetic
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Recombination, Genetic / genetics*


  • BRCA1 Protein
  • Codon, Nonsense