SMARCAL1 catalyzes fork regression and Holliday junction migration to maintain genome stability during DNA replication

Genes Dev. 2012 Jan 15;26(2):151-62. doi: 10.1101/gad.178459.111.


SMARCAL1 (SWI/SNF-related, matrix-associated, actin-dependent regulator of chromatin, subfamily A-like1) maintains genome integrity during DNA replication. Here we investigated its mechanism of action. We found that SMARCAL1 travels with elongating replication forks, and its absence leads to MUS81-dependent double-strand break formation. Binding to specific nucleic acid substrates activates SMARCAL1 activity in a reaction that requires its HARP2 (Hep-A-related protein 2) domain. Homology modeling indicates that the HARP domain is similar in structure to the DNA-binding domain of the PUR proteins. Limited proteolysis, small-angle X-ray scattering, and functional assays indicate that the core enzymatic unit consists of the HARP2 and ATPase domains that fold into a stable structure. Surprisingly, SMARCAL1 is capable of binding three-way and four-way Holliday junctions and model replication forks that lack a designed ssDNA region. Furthermore, SMARCAL1 remodels these DNA substrates by promoting branch migration and fork regression. SMARCAL1 mutations that cause Schimke immunoosseous dysplasia or that inactivate the HARP2 domain abrogate these activities. These results suggest that SMARCAL1 continuously surveys replication forks for damage. If damage is present, it remodels the fork to promote repair and restart. Failures in the process lead to activation of an alternative repair mechanism that depends on MUS81-catalyzed cleavage of the damaged fork.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded
  • DNA Helicases / genetics
  • DNA Helicases / metabolism*
  • DNA Replication / genetics
  • DNA Replication / physiology*
  • DNA, Cruciform / metabolism*
  • DNA, Single-Stranded / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Endonucleases / metabolism
  • Genomic Instability / genetics
  • Genomic Instability / physiology*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • S Phase


  • DNA, Cruciform
  • DNA, Single-Stranded
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • SMARCAL1 protein, human
  • Endonucleases
  • MUS81 protein, human
  • DNA Helicases