Mutations in the breast cancer susceptibility 1 (BRCA1) gene are catalysts for breast and ovarian cancers. Most mutations are associated with the BRCA1 N- and C-terminal domains linked to DNA double-strand break (DSB) repair. However, little is known about the role of the intervening serine-glutamine (SQ) - cluster in the DNA damage response beyond its importance in regulating cell cycle checkpoints. We show that serine-to-alanine alterations at critical residues within the SQ-cluster known to be phosphorylated by ATM and ATR result in reduced homologous recombination repair (HRR) and aberrant mitosis. While a S1387A BRCA1 mutant - previously shown to abrogate S-phase arrest in response to radiation - resulted in only a modest decrease in HRR, S1387A together with an additional alteration, S1423A (BRCA12P), reduced HRR to vector control levels and similar to a quadruple mutant also including S1457A and S1524A (BRCA14P). These effects appeared to be independent of PALB2. Furthermore, we found that BRCA14P promoted a prolonged and struggling HRR late in the cell cycle and shifted DSB repair from HRR to non-homologous end joining which, in the face of irreparable chromosomal damage, resulted in mitotic catastrophe. Altogether, SQ-cluster phosphorylation is critical for allowing adequate time for completing normal HRR prior to mitosis and preventing cells from entering G1 prematurely resulting in gross chromosomal aberrations.
Keywords: DNA damage; DNA repair; cell cycle; phosphorylation; radiation.