Undamaged DNA transmits and enhances DNA damage checkpoint signals in early embryos

Aimin Peng, Andrea L. Lewellyn, James L. Maller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


In Xenopus laevis embryos, the midblastula transition (MBT) at the 12th cell division marks initiation of critical developmental events, including zygotic transcription and the abrupt inclusion of gap phases into the cell cycle. Interestingly, although an ionizing radiation-induced checkpoint response is absent in pre-MBT embryos, introduction of a threshold amount of undamaged plasmid or sperm DNA allows a DNA damage checkpoint response to be activated. We show here that undamaged threshold DNA directly participates in checkpoint signaling, as judged by several dynamic changes, including H2AX phosphorylation, ATM phosphorylation and loading onto chromatin, and Chk1, Chk2 phosphorylation and release from nuclear DNA. These responses on physically separate threshold DNA require γ-H2AX and are triggered by an ATM-dependent soluble signal initiated by damaged DNA. The signal persists in egg extracts even after damaged DNA is removed from the system, indicating that the absence of damaged DNA is not sufficient to end the checkpoint response. The results identify a novel mechanism by which undamaged DNA enhances checkpoint signaling and provide an example of how the transition to cell cycle checkpoint activation during development is accomplished by maternally programmed increases in the DNA-to-cytoplasm ratio.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6852-6862
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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