Cdk5 promotes DNA replication stress checkpoint activation through RPA-32 phosphorylation, and impacts on metastasis free survival in breast cancer patients

Cell Cycle. 2015;14(19):3066-78. doi: 10.1080/15384101.2015.1078020.


Cyclin dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5) is a determinant of PARP inhibitor and ionizing radiation (IR) sensitivity. Here we show that Cdk5-depleted (Cdk5-shRNA) HeLa cells show higher sensitivity to S-phase irradiation, chronic hydroxyurea exposure, and 5-fluorouracil and 6-thioguanine treatment, with hydroxyurea and IR sensitivity also seen in Cdk5-depleted U2OS cells. As Cdk5 is not directly implicated in DNA strand break repair we investigated in detail its proposed role in the intra-S checkpoint activation. While Cdk5-shRNA HeLa cells showed altered basal S-phase dynamics with slower replication velocity and fewer active origins per DNA megabase, checkpoint activation was impaired after a hydroxyurea block. Cdk5 depletion was associated with reduced priming phosphorylations of RPA32 serines 29 and 33 and SMC1-Serine 966 phosphorylation, lower levels of RPA serine 4 and 8 phosphorylation and DNA damage measured using the alkaline Comet assay, gamma-H2AX signal intensity, RPA and Rad51 foci, and sister chromatid exchanges resulting in impaired intra-S checkpoint activation and subsequently higher numbers of chromatin bridges. In vitro kinase assays coupled with mass spectrometry demonstrated that Cdk5 can carry out the RPA32 priming phosphorylations on serines 23, 29, and 33 necessary for this checkpoint activation. In addition we found an association between lower Cdk5 levels and longer metastasis free survival in breast cancer patients and survival in Cdk5-depleted breast tumor cells after treatment with IR and a PARP inhibitor. Taken together, these results show that Cdk5 is necessary for basal replication and replication stress checkpoint activation and highlight clinical opportunities to enhance tumor cell killing.

Keywords: Cdk5; PARP-1; hydroxyurea; ionizing radiation; replication stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 5 / metabolism*
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • DNA Damage / genetics
  • DNA Damage / radiation effects
  • DNA Replication / drug effects
  • DNA Replication / genetics*
  • DNA Replication / radiation effects
  • Female
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyurea / metabolism
  • Hydroxyurea / pharmacology
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Phosphorylation / genetics
  • Phosphorylation / radiation effects
  • Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase-1
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / genetics
  • Radiation, Ionizing


  • PARP1 protein, human
  • Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase-1
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 5
  • CDK5 protein, human
  • Hydroxyurea