Malignant brain tumour (MBT) domain proteins are transcriptional repressors that function within Polycomb complexes. Some MBT genes are tumour suppressors, but how they prevent tumourigenesis is unknown. The Caenorhabditis elegans MBT protein LIN-61 is a member of the synMuvB chromatin-remodelling proteins that control vulval development. Here we report a new role for LIN-61: it protects the genome by promoting homologous recombination (HR) for the repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). lin-61 mutants manifest numerous problems associated with defective HR in germ and somatic cells but remain proficient in meiotic recombination. They are hypersensitive to ionizing radiation and interstrand crosslinks but not UV light. Using a novel reporter system that monitors repair of a defined DSB in C. elegans somatic cells, we show that LIN-61 contributes to HR. The involvement of this MBT protein in HR raises the possibility that MBT–deficient tumours may also have defective DSB repair.
The genome is continually under threat from exogenous sources of DNA damage, as well as from sources that originate within the cell. DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are arguably the most problematic type of damage as they can cause dangerous chromosome rearrangements, which can lead to cancer, as well as mutation at the break site and/or cell death. A complex network of molecular pathways, collectively referred to as the DNA damage response (DDR), have evolved to protect the cell from these threats. We have discovered a new DDR factor, LIN-61, that promotes the repair of DSBs. This is a novel and unexpected role for LIN-61, which was previously known to act as a regulator of gene transcription during development.