In the last decade, many papers highlighted that the histone variant H2AX and its phosphorylation on Ser 139 (γH2AX) cannot be simply considered a specific DNA double-strand-break (DSB) marker with a role restricted to the DNA damage response, but rather as a 'protagonist' in different scenarios. This review will present and discuss an up-to-date view regarding the 'non-canonical' H2AX roles, focusing in particular on possible functional and structural parts in contexts different from the canonical DNA DSB response. We will present aspects concerning sex chromosome inactivation in male germ cells, X inactivation in female somatic cells and mitosis, but will also focus on the more recent studies regarding embryonic and neural stem cell development, asymmetric sister chromosome segregation in stem cells and cellular senescence maintenance. We will discuss whether in these new contexts there might be a relation with the canonical DNA DSB signalling function that could justify γH2AX formation. The authors will emphasize that, just as H2AX phosphorylation signals chromatin alteration and serves the canonical function of recruiting DSB repair factors, so the modification of H2AX in contexts other than the DNA damage response may contribute towards creating a specific chromatin structure frame allowing 'non-canonical' functions to be carried out in different cell types.
© The Author(s) 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.