Constitutive phosphorylation of ATM in lymphoblastoid cell lines from patients with ICF syndrome without downstream kinase activity

Jimena V. Goldstine, Shareef Nahas, Kristin Gamo, Stanley M. Gartler, R. Scott Hansen, Jeroen H. Roelfsema, Richard A. Gatti, York Marahrens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Double strand DNA breaks in the genome lead to the activation of the ataxia-telangiectasia mutated (ATM) kinase in a process that requires ATM autophosphorylation at serine-1981. ATM autophosphorylation only occurs if ATM is previously acetylated by Tip60. The activated ATM kinase phosphorylates proteins involved in arresting the cell cycle, including p53, and in repairing the DNA breaks. Chloroquine treatment and other manipulations that produce chromatin defects in the absence of detectable double strand breaks also trigger ATM phosphorylation and the phosphorylation of p53 in primary human fibroblasts, while other downstream substrates of ATM that are involved in the repair of DNA double strand breaks remain unphosphorylated. This raises the issue of whether ATM is constitutively activated in patients with genetic diseases that display chromatin defects. We examined lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) generated from patients with different types of chromatin disorders: Immunodeficiency, Centromeric instability, Facial anomalies (ICF) syndrome, Coffin Lowry syndrome, Rubinstein Taybi syndrome and Fascioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy. We show that ATM is phosphorylated on serine-1981 in LCLs derived from ICF patients but not from the other syndromes. The phosphorylated ATM in ICF cells did not phosphorylate the downstream targets NBS1, SMC1 and H2AX, all of which require the presence of double strand breaks. We demonstrate that ICF cells respond normally to ionizing radiation, ruling out the possibility that genetic deficiency in ICF cells renders activated ATM incapable of phosphorylating its downstream substrates. Surprisingly, p53 was also not phosphorylated in ICF cells or in chloroquine-treated wild type LCLs. In this regard the response to chromatin-altering agents differs between primary fibroblasts and LCLs. Our findings indicate that although phosphorylation at serine-1981 is essential in the activation of the ATM kinase, serine-1981 phosphorylation is insufficient to render ATM an active kinase towards downstream substrates, including p53.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)432-443
Number of pages12
JournalDNA Repair
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 8 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Dr. Sara T. Winokur for the FSHD cell lines. This work was funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) MARC F31 Fellowship 5F31GM068976 (JVG), by the FSH society pilot grant FSHS-NYSS-002 (YM), and by the National Institutes of Health R01 HD041451 (YM).


  • ATM
  • ATM serine-1981 phosphorylation
  • Abnormal chromatin
  • ICF syndrome
  • Kinase activation
  • p53 serine-15 phosphorylation


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