Genes & development

Essential role for centromeric factors following p53 loss and oncogenic transformation.

PMID 28356341


In mammals, centromere definition involves the histone variant CENP-A (centromere protein A), deposited by its chaperone, HJURP (Holliday junction recognition protein). Alterations in this process impair chromosome segregation and genome stability, which are also compromised by p53 inactivation in cancer. Here we found that CENP-A and HJURP are transcriptionally up-regulated in p53-null human tumors. Using an established mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) model combining p53 inactivation with E1A or HRas-V12 oncogene expression, we reproduced a similar up-regulation of HJURP and CENP-A. We delineate functional CDE/CHR motifs within the Hjurp and Cenpa promoters and demonstrate their roles in p53-mediated repression. To assess the importance of HJURP up-regulation in transformed murine and human cells, we used a CRISPR/Cas9 approach. Remarkably, depletion of HJURP leads to distinct outcomes depending on their p53 status. Functional p53 elicits a cell cycle arrest response, whereas, in p53-null transformed cells, the absence of arrest enables the loss of HJURP to induce severe aneuploidy and, ultimately, apoptotic cell death. We thus tested the impact of HJURP depletion in pre-established allograft tumors in mice and revealed a major block of tumor progression in vivo. We discuss a model in which an "epigenetic addiction" to the HJURP chaperone represents an Achilles' heel in p53-deficient transformed cells.