H4K20me2 distinguishes pre-replicative from post-replicative chromatin to appropriately direct DNA repair pathway choice by 53BP1-RIF1-MAD2L2

Cell Cycle. 2018;17(1):124-136. doi: 10.1080/15384101.2017.1404210. Epub 2018 Jan 2.


The main pathways for the repair of DNA double strand breaks (DSBs) are non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) and homologous recombination directed repair (HDR). These operate mutually exclusive and are activated by 53BP1 and BRCA1, respectively. As HDR can only succeed in the presence of an intact copy of replicated DNA, cells employ several mechanisms to inactivate HDR in the G1 phase of cell cycle. As cells enter S-phase, these inhibitory mechanisms are released and HDR becomes active. However, during DNA replication, NHEJ and HDR pathways are both functional and non-replicated and replicated DNA regions co-exist, with the risk of aberrant HDR activity at DSBs in non-replicated DNA. It has become clear that DNA repair pathway choice depends on inhibition of DNA end-resection by 53BP1 and its downstream factors RIF1 and MAD2L2. However, it is unknown how MAD2L2 accumulates at DSBs to participate in DNA repair pathway control and how the NHEJ and HDR repair pathways are appropriately activated at DSBs with respect to the replication status of the DNA, such that NHEJ acts at DSBs in pre-replicative DNA and HDR acts on DSBs in post-replicative DNA. Here we show that MAD2L2 is recruited to DSBs in H4K20 dimethylated chromatin by forming a protein complex with 53BP1 and RIF1 and that MAD2L2, similar to 53BP1 and RIF1, suppresses DSB accumulation of BRCA1. Furthermore, we show that the replication status of the DNA locally ensures the engagement of the correct DNA repair pathway, through epigenetics. In non-replicated DNA, saturating levels of the 53BP1 binding site, di-methylated lysine 20 of histone 4 (H4K20me2), lead to robust 53BP1-RIF1-MAD2L2 recruitment at DSBs, with consequent exclusion of BRCA1. Conversely, replication-associated 2-fold dilution of H4K20me2 promotes the release of the 53BP1-RIF1-MAD2L2 complex and favours the access of BRCA1. Thus, the differential H4K20 methylation status between pre-replicative and post-replicative DNA represents an intrinsic mechanism that locally ensures appropriate recruitment of the 53BP1-RIF1-MAD2L2 complex at DNA DSBs, to engage the correct DNA repair pathway.

Keywords: 53BP1; DNA repair pathway choice; DNA replication; H4K20 dimethylation; HDR; NHEJ; chromatin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • BRCA1 Protein / metabolism
  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / metabolism
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded
  • DNA Repair*
  • DNA Replication*
  • G2 Phase
  • HeLa Cells
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lysine / metabolism*
  • Mad2 Proteins / metabolism*
  • Methylation
  • Models, Biological
  • Protein Binding
  • Telomere-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Tumor Suppressor p53-Binding Protein 1 / metabolism*


  • BRCA1 Protein
  • Chromatin
  • Histones
  • MAD2L2 protein, human
  • Mad2 Proteins
  • Rif1 protein, human
  • TP53BP1 protein, human
  • Telomere-Binding Proteins
  • Tumor Suppressor p53-Binding Protein 1
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases
  • Lysine

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) [grant number Proteins@Work 184.032.201] and EC European Research Council (ERC) [grant number ERC-StG 311565].