Heterochromatin and the DNA damage response: the need to relax

Biochem Cell Biol. 2011 Feb;89(1):45-60. doi: 10.1139/O10-113.


Higher order chromatin structure has an impact on all nuclear functions, including the DNA damage response. Over the past several years, it has become increasingly clear that heterochromatin and euchromatin represent separate entities with respect to both damage sensitivity and repair. The chromatin compaction present in heterochromatin helps to protect this DNA from damage; however, when lesions do occur, the compaction restricts the ability of DNA damage response proteins to access the site, as evidenced by its ability to block the expansion of H2AX phosphorylation. As such, DNA damage in heterochromatin is refractory to repair, which requires the surrounding chromatin structure to be decondensed. In the case of DNA double-strand breaks, this relaxation is at least partially mediated by the ATM kinase phosphorylating and inhibiting the function of the transcriptional repressor KAP1. This review will focus on the functions of KAP1 and other proteins involved in the maintenance or restriction of heterochromatin, including HP1 and TIP60, in the DNA damage response. As heterochromatin is important for maintaining genomic stability, cells must maintain a delicate balance between allowing repair factors access to these regions and ensuring that these regions retain their organization to prevent increased DNA damage and chromosomal mutations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone / genetics
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • DNA / genetics*
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded
  • DNA Damage / genetics*
  • DNA Repair / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • Euchromatin / genetics
  • Genomic Instability
  • Heterochromatin / genetics*
  • Histone Acetyltransferases / genetics
  • Humans
  • Lysine Acetyltransferase 5
  • Nucleosomes / chemistry
  • Nucleosomes / genetics
  • Phosphorylation / genetics
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / genetics


  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Euchromatin
  • Heterochromatin
  • Nucleosomes
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • DNA
  • Histone Acetyltransferases
  • KAT5 protein, human
  • Lysine Acetyltransferase 5
  • ATM protein, human
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases