Research ArticleCancer

ATRX loss promotes tumor growth and impairs nonhomologous end joining DNA repair in glioma

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Science Translational Medicine  02 Mar 2016:
Vol. 8, Issue 328, pp. 328ra28
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aac8228

Aggressive gliomas’ Achilles’ heel

ATRX is a protein that is often mutated in glioma, a lethal and relatively common brain tumor. Koschmann et al. developed a mouse model of ATRX-deficient glioma and discovered that these tumors grow more aggressively than their counterparts with wild-type ATRX. The reason this happens is that the loss of ATRX impairs DNA repair, resulting in genetically unstable tumors that can accumulate oncogenic mutations more quickly. However, because of their DNA repair defect, these tumors also proved to be more sensitive to treatments that damage the DNA, such as radiation and some types of chemotherapy. Consistent with these findings, the presence of ATRX mutation correlated with better outcomes in patients, because these tumors were more susceptible to treatment.


Recent work in human glioblastoma (GBM) has documented recurrent mutations in the histone chaperone protein ATRX. We developed an animal model of ATRX-deficient GBM and showed that loss of ATRX reduces median survival and increases genetic instability. Further, analysis of genome-wide data for human gliomas showed that ATRX mutation is associated with increased mutation rate at the single-nucleotide variant (SNV) level. In mouse tumors, ATRX deficiency impairs nonhomologous end joining and increases sensitivity to DNA-damaging agents that induce double-stranded DNA breaks. We propose that ATRX loss results in a genetically unstable tumor, which is more aggressive when left untreated but is more responsive to double-stranded DNA-damaging agents, resulting in improved overall survival.

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