Dbf4-dependent kinase (DDK) and cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) are essential to initiate DNA replication at individual origins. During replication stress, the S-phase checkpoint inhibits the DDK- and CDK-dependent activation of late replication origins. Rad53 kinase is a central effector of the replication checkpoint and both binds to and phosphorylates Dbf4 to prevent late-origin firing. The molecular basis for the Rad53-Dbf4 physical interaction is not clear but occurs through the Dbf4 N terminus. Here we found that both Rad53 FHA1 and FHA2 domains, which specifically recognize phospho-threonine (pT), interacted with Dbf4 through an N-terminal sequence and an adjacent BRCT domain. Purified Rad53 FHA1 domain (but not FHA2) bound to a pT Dbf4 peptide in vitro, suggesting a possible phospho-threonine-dependent interaction between FHA1 and Dbf4. The Dbf4-Rad53 interaction is governed by multiple contacts that are separable from the Cdc5- and Msa1-binding sites in the Dbf4 N terminus. Importantly, abrogation of the Rad53-Dbf4 physical interaction blocked Dbf4 phosphorylation and allowed late-origin firing during replication checkpoint activation. This indicated that Rad53 must stably bind to Dbf4 to regulate its activity.
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