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Mol Biol Cell. 2000 Sep;11(9):3101-8.

Dissection of the XChk1 signaling pathway in Xenopus laevis embryos.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, USA.


Checkpoint pathways inhibit cyclin-dependent kinases (Cdks) to arrest cell cycles when DNA is damaged or unreplicated. Early embryonic cell cycles of Xenopus laevis lack these checkpoints. Completion of 12 divisions marks the midblastula transition (MBT), when the cell cycle lengthens, acquiring gap phases and checkpoints of a somatic cell cycle. Although Xenopus embryos lack checkpoints prior to the MBT, checkpoints are observed in cell-free egg extracts supplemented with sperm nuclei. These checkpoints depend upon the Xenopus Chk1 (XChk1)-signaling pathway. To understand why Xenopus embryos lack checkpoints, xchk1 was cloned, and its expression was examined and manipulated in Xenopus embryos. Although XChk1 mRNA is degraded at the MBT, XChk1 protein persists throughout development, including pre-MBT cell cycles that lack checkpoints. However, when DNA replication is blocked, XChk1 is activated only after stage 7, two cell cycles prior to the MBT. Likewise, DNA damage activates XChk1 only after the MBT. Furthermore, overexpression of XChk1 in Xenopus embryos creates a checkpoint in which cell division arrests, and both Cdc2 and Cdk2 are phosphorylated on tyrosine 15 and inhibited in catalytic activity. These data indicate that XChk1 signaling is intact but blocked upstream of XChk1 until the MBT.

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