HELQ is a dual-function DSB repair enzyme modulated by RPA and RAD51

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DNA double-stranded breaks (DSBs) are deleterious lesions, and their incorrect repair can drive cancer development1. HELQ is a superfamily 2 helicase with 3' to 5' polarity, and its disruption in mice confers germ cells loss, infertility and increased predisposition to ovarian and pituitary tumours2-4. At the cellular level, defects in HELQ result in hypersensitivity to cisplatin and mitomycin C, and persistence of RAD51 foci after DNA damage3,5. Notably, HELQ binds to RPA and the RAD51-paralogue BCDX2 complex, but the relevance of these interactions and how HELQ functions in DSB repair remains unclear3,5,6. Here we show that HELQ helicase activity and a previously unappreciated DNA strand annealing function are differentially regulated by RPA and RAD51. Using biochemistry analyses and single-molecule imaging, we establish that RAD51 forms a complex with and strongly stimulates HELQ as it translocates during DNA unwinding. By contrast, RPA inhibits DNA unwinding by HELQ but strongly stimulates DNA strand annealing. Mechanistically, we show that HELQ possesses an intrinsic ability to capture RPA-bound DNA strands and then displace RPA to facilitate annealing of complementary sequences. Finally, we show that HELQ deficiency in cells compromises single-strand annealing and microhomology-mediated end-joining pathways and leads to bias towards long-tract gene conversion tracts during homologous recombination. Thus, our results implicate HELQ in multiple arms of DSB repair through co-factor-dependent modulation of intrinsic translocase and DNA strand annealing activities.

Journal details

Journal Nature
Volume 601
Issue number 7892
Pages 268-273
Available online
Publication date