ATM, ATR and DNA-PKcs kinases-the lessons from the mouse models: inhibition ≠ deletion

Cell Biosci. 2020 Jan 29;10:8. doi: 10.1186/s13578-020-0376-x. eCollection 2020.


DNA damage, especially DNA double strand breaks (DSBs) and replication stress, activates a complex post-translational network termed DNA damage response (DDR). Our review focuses on three PI3-kinase related protein kinases-ATM, ATR and DNA-PKcs, which situate at the apex of the mammalian DDR. They are recruited to and activated at the DNA damage sites by their respective sensor protein complexes-MRE11/RAD50/NBS1 for ATM, RPA/ATRIP for ATR and KU70-KU80/86 (XRCC6/XRCC5) for DNA-PKcs. Upon activation, ATM, ATR and DNA-PKcs phosphorylate a large number of partially overlapping substrates to promote efficient and accurate DNA repair and to coordinate DNA repair with other DNA metabolic events (e.g., transcription, replication and mitosis). At the organism level, robust DDR is critical for normal development, aging, stem cell maintenance and regeneration, and physiological genomic rearrangements in lymphocytes and germ cells. In addition to endogenous damage, oncogene-induced replication stresses and genotoxic chemotherapies also activate DDR. On one hand, DDR factors suppress genomic instability to prevent malignant transformation. On the other hand, targeting DDR enhances the therapeutic effects of anti-cancer chemotherapy, which led to the development of specific kinase inhibitors for ATM, ATR and DNA-PKcs. Using mouse models expressing kinase dead ATM, ATR and DNA-PKcs, an unexpected structural function of these kinases was revealed, where the expression of catalytically inactive kinases causes more genomic instability than the loss of the proteins themselves. The spectrum of genomic instabilities and physiological consequences are unique for each kinase and depends on their activating complexes, suggesting a model in which the catalysis is coupled with DNA/chromatin release and catalytic inhibition leads to the persistence of the kinases at the DNA lesion, which in turn affects repair pathway choice and outcomes. Here we discuss the experimental evidences supporting this mode of action and their implications in the design and use of specific kinase inhibitors for ATM, ATR and DNA-PKcs for cancer therapy.

Keywords: ATM; ATR; DNA damage response; DNA-PKcs; Double-strand breaks (DSBs); Kinase inhibition; Lymphocyte development; Single-strand DNA (ssDNA).

Publication types

  • Review