New & Noteworthy

Polygamous DNA Replication

June 26, 2014

Regulation ensures that most replication origins fire only once during a cell cycle, just as social mores ensure that most people have only one spouse at a time. But the exceptions can be interesting. Portrait of a Young Married Couple by Jacob Jordaens, image from Wikimedia Commons

Once someone is married, there are lots of things that keep them from starting a second marriage at the same time.  Laws, fear of losing the first spouse, social mores and so on all create a situation where the vast majority of people have only a single spouse at any one time. 

As each of these inhibitions is lifted, people will be more or less inclined towards polygamy, depending on who they are and the culture they live in.  For example, if having multiple spouses becomes acceptable socially, then some people might dive right in while others might hold off.

It turns out that origins of replication are similar.  There are many layers of control that keep an origin from firing more than once during any cell cycle.  But just like people and polygamy, when a few inhibitory layers are removed, some origins are more likely to fire more than once in a cell cycle than are others.

In a new study out in PLOS Genetics, Richardson and Li have identified a DNA sequence that makes nearby origins of replication fire more than once during a cell cycle when certain regulatory mechanisms have been disabled.  The authors hypothesize that these reinitiation promoters (RIPs) may be important for promoting genetic diversity by causing genomic duplication of specific regions under certain circumstances. 

This lab had previously shown that the origin ARS317 reinitiates more frequently when global regulation is removed from some key players in initiation: Cdc6p, the Mcm2-7 complex, and the origin recognition complex (ORC).  They disabled the regulation of all three of these by mutating each to prevent their recognition by the master regulator cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK, whose catalytic subunit is Cdc28p). In this study, they identified a second origin, ARS1238, that also reinitiated more often under these conditions.  The authors next set out to identify why these origins reinitiated under these conditions.

The first thing they found was that chromosomal context didn’t matter a whole lot.  Both origins reinitiated at around the same rate when they were in their natural context or when moved to other chromosomes.  The ability to reinitiate must be contained in the sequence of the DNA that was moved.

They next showed through deletion and linker scanning analysis that the two origins both required an AT-rich, ~60 base pair sequence to reinitiate.  This sequence needed to be within around 35-75 base pairs of the origin to promote reinitiation. Not any old stretch of AT-rich DNA would do; a specific DNA sequence was necessary, suggesting that this DNA is not required for reinitiation just because it is more easily unwound. 

These authors have shed light on a key process in the life of a cell—the firing of an origin of replication once and only once during any cell cycle.  It is critical for a cell that origins do not routinely reinitiate to prevent widespread genomic duplications that left unchecked would be very dangerous to the cell.

Richardson and Li have shown that not all origins are created equally, in that some are more likely to reinitiate under certain conditions than are others. If similar regions in mammalian cells turn out to be hotspots for genetic changes in cancers, then scientists may be able to target them to prevent the cancer’s genetic progression.  We may be able to reintroduce laws to keep polygamy at bay.

by D. Barry Starr, Ph.D., Director of Outreach Activities, Stanford Genetics