DNA polymerase ε (POLE) is a four-subunit complex and the major leading strand polymerase in eukaryotes. Budding yeast orthologs of POLE3 and POLE4 promote Polε processivity in vitro but are dispensable for viability in vivo. Here, we report that POLE4 deficiency in mice destabilizes the entire Polε complex, leading to embryonic lethality in inbred strains and extensive developmental abnormalities, leukopenia, and tumor predisposition in outbred strains. Comparable phenotypes of growth retardation and immunodeficiency are also observed in human patients harboring destabilizing mutations in POLE1. In both Pole4-/- mouse and POLE1 mutant human cells, Polε hypomorphy is associated with replication stress and p53 activation, which we attribute to inefficient replication origin firing. Strikingly, removing p53 is sufficient to rescue embryonic lethality and all developmental abnormalities in Pole4 null mice. However, Pole4-/-p53+/- mice exhibit accelerated tumorigenesis, revealing an important role for controlled CMG and origin activation in normal development and tumor prevention.
Brca2 deficiency causes Mre11-dependent degradation of nascent DNA at stalled forks, leading to cell lethality. To understand the molecular mechanisms underlying this process, we isolated Xenopus laevis Brca2. We demonstrated that Brca2 protein prevents single-stranded DNA gap accumulation at replication fork junctions and behind them by promoting Rad51 binding to replicating DNA. Without Brca2, forks with persistent gaps are converted by Smarcal1 into reversed forks, triggering extensive Mre11-dependent nascent DNA degradation. Stable Rad51 nucleofilaments, but not RPA or Rad51T131P mutant proteins, directly prevent Mre11-dependent DNA degradation. Mre11 inhibition instead promotes reversed fork accumulation in the absence of Brca2. Rad51 directly interacts with the Pol α N-terminal domain, promoting Pol α and δ binding to stalled replication forks. This interaction likely promotes replication fork restart and gap avoidance. These results indicate that Brca2 and Rad51 prevent formation of abnormal DNA replication intermediates, whose processing by Smarcal1 and Mre11 predisposes to genome instability.