Background: Checkpoint pathways prevent cell-cycle progression in the event of DNA lesions. Checkpoints are well defined in mitosis, where lesions can be the result of extrinsic damage, and they are critical in meiosis, where DNA breaks are a programmed step in meiotic recombination. In mitotic yeast cells, the Chk1 protein couples DNA repair to the cell-cycle machinery. The Atm and Atr proteins are mitotic cell-cycle proteins that also associate with chromatin during meiotic prophase I. The genetic and regulatory interaction between Atm and mammalian Chk1 appears to be important for integrating DNA-damage repair with cell-cycle arrest.
Results: We have identified structural homologs of yeast Chk1 in human and mouse. Chk1(Hu/Mo) has protein kinase activity and is expressed in the testis. Chk1 accumulates in late zygotene and pachytene spermatocytes and is present along synapsed meiotic chromosomes. Chk1 localizes along the unsynapsed axes of X and Y chromosomes in pachytene spermatocytes. The association of Chk1 with meiotic chromosomes and levels of Chk1 protein depend upon a functional Atm gene product, but Chk1 is not dependent upon p53 for meiosis I functions. Mapping of CHK1 to human chromosomes indicates that the gene is located at 11q22-23, a region marked by frequent deletions and loss of heterozygosity in human tumors.
Conclusions: The Atm-dependent presence of Chk1 in mouse cells and along meiotic chromosomes, and the late pachynema co-localization of Atr and Chk1 on the unsynapsed axes of the paired X and Y chromosomes, suggest that Chk1 acts as an integrator for Atm and Atr signals and may be involved in monitoring the processing of meiotic recombination. Furthermore, mapping of the CHK1 gene to a region of frequent loss of heterozygosity in human tumors at 11q22-23 indicates that the CHK1 gene is a candidate tumor suppressor gene.