The histone variant H2A.Z is required for efficient transcription-coupled NER and to maintain genome integrity in UV challenged yeast cells

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The genome of living cells is constantly challenged by DNA lesions that interfere with cellular processes such as transcription and replication. A manifold of mechanisms act in concert to ensure adequate DNA repair, gene expression, and genome stability. Bulky DNA lesions, such as those induced by UV light or the DNA-damaging agent 4-nitroquinoline oxide, act as transcriptional and replicational roadblock and thus represent a major threat to cell metabolism. When located on the transcribed strand of active genes, these lesions are handled by transcription-coupled nucleotide excision repair (TC-NER), a yet incompletely understood NER sub-pathway. Here, using a genetic screen in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae , we identified histone variant H2A.Z as an important component to safeguard transcription and DNA integrity following UV irradiation. In the absence of H2A.Z, repair by TC-NER is severely impaired and RNA polymerase II clearance reduced, leading to an increase in double-strand breaks. Thus, H2A.Z enables proficient TC-NER and plays a major role in the maintenance of genome stability upon UV irradiation.

Author summary

The genome of living organisms is constantly challenged by intrinsic and extrinsic DNA damaging agents. The resulting DNA lesions must be readily repaired to maintain genome integrity. This is particularly important for bulky DNA lesions, such as those produced by UV light, as they will block the progress of elongating RNA polymerases on transcribed genes. These DNA lesions are repaired by a specific pathway called transcription-coupled nucleotide excision repair (TC-NER), the dysfunction of which is associated with severe human diseases. In this work, we used budding yeast as a eukaryotic model organism to perform a genetic screen for new TC-NER factors. We discovered that the HTZ1 gene, encoding the histone variant H2A.Z, is required for efficient DNA repair by TC-NER. Our molecular and genetic analyses showed that in the absence of H2A.Z, RNA polymerases persist on damaged DNA, causing interference with DNA replication and genome instability. Our findings further highlight the importance of chromatin plasticity for the maintenance of genome integrity.

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