Mutation research. Genetic toxicology and environmental mutagenesis

Stress induced by premature chromatin condensation triggers chromosome shattering and chromothripsis at DNA sites still replicating in micronuclei or multinucleate cells when primary nuclei enter mitosis.

PMID 26520389


Combination of next-generation DNA sequencing, single nucleotide polymorphism array analyses and bioinformatics has revealed the striking phenomenon of chromothripsis, described as complex genomic rearrangements acquired in a single catastrophic event affecting one or a few chromosomes. Via an unproven mechanism, it is postulated that mechanical stress causes chromosome shattering into small lengths of DNA, which are then randomly reassembled by DNA repair machinery. Chromothripsis is currently examined as an alternative mechanism of oncogenesis, in contrast to the present paradigm that considers a stepwise development of cancer. While evidence for the mechanism(s) underlying chromosome shattering during cancer development remains elusive, a number of hypotheses have been proposed to explain chromothripsis, including ionizing radiation, DNA replication stress, breakage-fusion-bridge cycles, micronuclei formation and premature chromosome compaction. In the present work, we provide experimental evidence on the mechanistic basis of chromothripsis and on how chromosomes can get locally shattered in a single catastrophic event. Considering the dynamic nature of chromatin nucleoprotein complex, capable of rapid unfolding, disassembling, assembling and refolding, we first show that chromatin condensation at repairing or replicating DNA sites induces the mechanical stress needed for chromosome shattering to ensue. Premature chromosome condensation is then used to visualize the dynamic nature of interphase chromatin and demonstrate that such mechanical stress and chromosome shattering can also occur in chromosomes within micronuclei or asynchronous multinucleate cells when primary nuclei enter mitosis. Following an aberrant mitosis, chromosomes could find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time so that they may undergo massive DNA breakage and rearrangement in a single catastrophic event. Specifically, our results support the hypothesis that premature chromosome condensation induces mechanical stress and triggers shattering and chromothripsis in chromosomes or chromosome arms still undergoing DNA replication or repair in micronuclei or asynchronous multinucleate cells, when primary nuclei enter mitosis.