A role for the Mut L homologue-1 (MLH1) protein, a necessary component of DNA mismatch repair (MMR), in G2-M cell cycle checkpoint arrest after 6-thioguanine (6-TG) exposure was suggested previously. A potential role for MLH1 in G1 arrest and/or G1-S transition after damage was, however, not discounted. We report that MLH1-deficient human colon carcinoma (HCT116) cells showed decreased survival and a concomitant deficlency in G2-M cell cycle checkpoint arrest after ionizing radiation (IR) compared with genetically matched, MMR-corrected human colon carcinoma (HCT116 3–6) cells. Similar responses were noted between murine MLH1 knockout compared to wild-type primary embryonic fibroblasts. MMR-deficient HCT116 cells or embryonic fibroblasts from MLH1 knockout mice also demonstrated classic DNA damage tolerance responses after 6-TG exposure. Interestingly, an enhanced p53 protein induction response was observed in HCT116 3–6 (MLH1+) compared with HCT116 (MLH1-) cells after IR or 6-TG. Retroviral vectormediated expression of the E6 protein did not, however, affect the enhanced G2-M cell cycle arrest observed in HCT116 372-6 compared with MLH1-deficient HCT116 cells. A role for MLH1 in G2-M cell cycle checkpoint control, without alteration in G1, after IR was also suggested by similar S-phase progression between irradiated MLH1-deficient and MLH1-proficient human or murine cells. Introduction of a nocodazoleinduced G2-M block, which corrected the MLH1-mediated G2-M arrest deficiency in HCT116 cells, clearly demonstrated that HCT116 and HCT116 3–6 cells did not differ in G1 arrest or G1-S cell cycle transition after IR. Thus, our data indicate that MLH1 does not play a major role in G1 cell cycle transition or arrest. We also show that human MLH1 and MSH2 steady-state protein levels did not vary with damage or cell cycle changes caused by IR or 6-TG. MLH1-mediated G2-M cell cycle delay (caused by either MMR proofreading of DNA lesions or by a direct function of the MLH1 protein in cell cycle arrest) may be important for DNA damage detection and repair prior to chromosome segregation to eliminate carcinogenic lesions (possibly brought on by misrepair) in daughter cells.


This work was supported by Grant DE-FG02-93ER61707-06 from the U. S. Department of Energy, Health Effects Research Division (to D. A. B.), and by NIH Grant 90-DKHD-10 (to T. W. D.). A preliminary version of this work was presented, in part, at the 1996 American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting, April 20–24, Washington, DC.

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