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PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e40572. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040572. Epub 2012 Jul 10.

Increases in mitochondrial DNA content and 4977-bp deletion upon ATM/Chk2 checkpoint activation in HeLa cells.

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  • 1Chemical Genetics Laboratory, RIKEN Advanced Science Institute, and CREST, JST, Wako-shi, Saitama, Japan.


Activation of the Mec1/Rad53 damage checkpoint pathway influences mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) content and point mutagenesis in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The effects of this conserved checkpoint pathway on mitochondrial genomes in human cells remain largely unknown. Here, we report that knockdown of the human DNA helicase RRM3 enhances phosphorylation of the cell cycle arrest kinase Chk2, indicating activation of the checkpoint via the ATM/Chk2 pathway, and increases mtDNA content independently of TFAM, a regulator of mtDNA copy number. Cell-cycle arrest did not have a consistent effect on mtDNA level: knockdown of cell cycle regulators PLK1 (polo-like kinase), MCM2, or MCM3 gave rise, respectively, to decreased, increased, or almost unchanged mtDNA levels. Therefore, we concluded that the mtDNA content increase upon RRM3 knockdown is not a response to delay of cell cycle progression. Also, we observed that RRM3 knockdown increased the levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS); two ROS scavengers, N-acetyl cysteine and vitamin C, suppressed the mtDNA content increase. On the other hand, in RRM3 knockdown cells, we detected an increase in the frequency of the common 4977-bp mtDNA deletion, a major mtDNA deletion that can be induced by abnormal ROS generation, and is associated with a decline in mitochondrial genome integrity, aging, and various mtDNA-related disorders in humans. These results suggest that increase of the mitochondrial genome by TFAM-independent mtDNA replication is connected, via oxidative stress, with the ATM/Chk2 checkpoint activation in response to DNA damage, and is accompanied by generation of the common 4977-bp deletion.

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