The breast- and ovarian-specific tumor suppressor BRCA1 has been implicated in numerous cellular processes, including transcription, ubiquitination, and DNA repair. Its tumor suppression activity is tightly linked to that of BARD1, a protein that heterodimerizes with BRCA1. It has been previously shown that BRCA1 binds to DNA, an interesting functional observation in light of the genetic data linking BRCA1 to DNA repair pathways. In this work, we reexamine the DNA-binding properties of BRCA1, comparing them with the DNA-binding properties of the BRCA1/BARD1 heterodimer. Because nuclear BRCA1 exists as a heterodimer with BARD1, it is likely that in vitro studies of the heterodimer will provide a more accurate model of physiologic conditions. Our results indicate that whereas BARD1 cannot directly bind DNA, it does enhance DNA binding by BRCA1. This is a surprising observation as both DNA-binding domains are distal to the BARD1-interacting RING domain of BRCA1. Further analysis of the dimerization reveals that the BRCA1/BARD1 interaction is not limited to the amino-terminal RING domains of each protein. The carboxyl terminus of BRCA1 contributes significantly to the stability of the heterodimer. We also show that the presence of BARD1 has a secondary effect, as autoubiquitination of BRCA1/BARD1 heterodimers additionally enhances the affinity of BRCA1 for DNA. Together, these data suggest that BRCA1 and BARD1 heterodimerization is stabilized via domains not previously thought to interact and that BARD1 acts in both ubiquitination-dependent and ubiquitination-independent ways to influence the role of BRCA1 in DNA repair.
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