Functions, Regulation, and Therapeutic Implications of the ATR Checkpoint Pathway

Annu Rev Genet. 2016 Nov 23;50:155-173. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genet-121415-121658. Epub 2016 Sep 9.


The ATR (ATM and rad3-related) pathway is crucial for proliferation, responding to DNA replication stress and DNA damage. This critical signaling pathway is carefully orchestrated through a multistep process requiring initial priming of ATR prior to damage, recruitment of ATR to DNA damage lesions, activation of ATR signaling, and, finally, modulation of ATR activity through a variety of post-translational modifications. Following activation, ATR functions in several vital cellular processes, including suppression of replication origin firing, promotion of deoxynucleotide synthesis and replication fork restart, prevention of double-stranded DNA break formation, and avoidance of replication catastrophe and mitotic catastrophe. In many cancers, tumor cells have increased dependence on ATR signaling for survival, making ATR a promising target for cancer therapy. Tumor cells compromised in DNA repair pathways or DNA damage checkpoints, cells reliant on homologous recombination, and cells with increased replication stress are particularly sensitive to ATR inhibition. Understanding ATR signaling and modulation is essential to unraveling which tumors have increased dependence on ATR signaling as well as how the ATR pathway can best be exploited for targeted cancer therapy.

Keywords: ATR; Chk1; DNA damage; DNA repair; cancer therapy; checkpoint; genomic instability; replication stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins / genetics
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins / metabolism*
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded
  • DNA Repair
  • DNA Replication
  • Genomic Instability
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods
  • Neoplasms / genetics*


  • ATR protein, human
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins