Mitotic catastrophe occurs as a result of the uncoupling of the onset of mitosis from the completion of DNA replication, but precisely how the ensuing lethality is regulated or what signals are involved is largely unknown. We demonstrate here the essential role of the ATM/ATR-p53 pathway in mitotic catastrophe from premature mitosis. Chk1 deficiency resulted in a premature onset of mitosis because of abnormal activation of cyclin B-Cdc2 and led to the activation of caspases 3 and 9 triggered by cytoplasmic release of cytochrome c. This deficiency was associated with foci formation by the phosphorylated histone, H2AX (gammaH2AX), specifically at S phase. Ectopic expression of Cdc2AF, a mutant that cannot be phosphorylated at inhibitory sites, also induced premature mitosis and foci formation by gammaH2AX at S phase in both embryonic stem cells and HCT116 cells. Depletion of ATM and ATR protected against cell death from premature mitosis. p53-deficient cells were highly resistant to lethality from premature mitosis as well. Our results therefore suggest that ATM/ATR-p53 is required for mitotic catastrophe that eliminates cells escaping Chk1-dependent mitotic regulation. Loss of this function might be important in mammalian tumorigenesis.
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