The initiation of DNA synthesis is an important cell cycle event that defines the beginning of S phase. This critical event involves the participation of proteins whose functions are regulated by cyclin dependent protein kinases (Cdks). The Mcm2-7 proteins are a family of six conserved proteins that are essential for the initiation of DNA synthesis in all eukaryotes. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, members of the Mcm2-7 family undergo cell cycle-specific phosphorylation. Phosphorylation of Mcm proteins at the beginning of S phase coincides with the removal of these proteins from chromatin and the onset of DNA synthesis. In this study, we identified DBF4, which encodes the regulatory subunit of a Cdk-like protein kinase Cdc7-Dbf4, in a screen for second site suppressors of mcm2-1. The dbf4 suppressor mutation restores competence to initiate DNA synthesis to the mcm2-1 mutant. Cdc7-Dbf4 interacts physically with Mcm2 and phosphorylates Mcm2 and three other members of the Mcm2-7 family in vitro. Blocking the kinase activity of Cdc7-Dbf4 at the G1-to-S phase transition also blocks the phosphorylation of Mcm2 at this defined point of the cell cycle. Taken together, our data suggest that phosphorylation of Mcm2 and probably other members of the Mcm2-7 proteins by Cdc7-Dbf4 at the G1-to-S phase transition is a critical step in the initiation of DNA synthesis at replication origins.
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