DNA replication stress can cause chromosomal instability and tumor progression. One key pathway that counteracts replication stress and promotes faithful DNA replication consists of the Fanconi anemia (FA) proteins. However, how these proteins limit replication stress remains largely elusive. Here we show that conflicts between replication and transcription activate the FA pathway. Inhibition of transcription or enzymatic degradation of transcription-associated R-loops (DNA:RNA hybrids) suppresses replication fork arrest and DNA damage occurring in the absence of a functional FA pathway. Furthermore, we show that simple aldehydes, known to cause leukemia in FA-deficient mice, induce DNA:RNA hybrids in FA-depleted cells. Finally, we demonstrate that the molecular mechanism by which the FA pathway limits R-loop accumulation requires FANCM translocase activity. Failure to activate a response to physiologically occurring DNA:RNA hybrids may critically contribute to the heightened cancer predisposition and bone marrow failure of individuals with mutated FA proteins.
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