ANKLE1 cleaves mitochondrial DNA and contributes to cancer risk by promoting apoptosis resistance and metabolic dysregulation

Commun Biol. 2023 Mar 1;6(1):231. doi: 10.1038/s42003-023-04611-w.


Alleles within the chr19p13.1 locus are associated with increased risk of both ovarian and breast cancer and increased expression of the ANKLE1 gene. ANKLE1 is molecularly characterized as an endonuclease that efficiently cuts branched DNA and shuttles between the nucleus and cytoplasm. However, the role of ANKLE1 in mammalian development and homeostasis remains unknown. In normal development ANKLE1 expression is limited to the erythroblast lineage and we found that ANKLE1's role is to cleave the mitochondrial genome during erythropoiesis. We show that ectopic expression of ANKLE1 in breast epithelial-derived cells leads to genome instability and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) cleavage. mtDNA degradation then leads to mitophagy and causes a shift from oxidative phosphorylation to glycolysis (Warburg effect). Moreover, mtDNA degradation activates STAT1 and expression of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) genes. Reduction in mitochondrial content contributes to apoptosis resistance, which may allow precancerous cells to avoid apoptotic checkpoints and proliferate. These findings provide evidence that ANKLE1 is the causal cancer susceptibility gene in the chr19p13.1 locus and describe mechanisms by which higher ANKLE1 expression promotes cancer risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Nucleus
  • DNA, Mitochondrial*
  • Mammals
  • Mitochondria
  • Neoplasms*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial