Multiple pathways mediate the repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), with numerous mechanisms responsible for driving choice between the pathways. Previously, we reported that mutating five putative phosphorylation sites on the non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) factor, Ku70, results in sustained retention of human Ku70/80 at DSB ends and attenuation of DSB repair via homologous recombination (HR). In this study, we generated a knock-in mouse, in which the three conserved putative phosphorylation sites of Ku70 were mutated to alanine to ablate potential phosphorylation (Ku703A/3A), in order to examine if disrupting DSB repair pathway choice by modulating Ku70/80 dynamics at DSB ends results in enhanced genomic instability and tumorigenesis. The Ku703A/3A mice developed spontaneous and have accelerated chemical-induced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) compared to wild-type (Ku70+/+) littermates. The HCC tumors from the Ku703A/3A mice have increased γH2AX and 8-oxo-G staining, suggesting decreased DNA repair. Spontaneous transformed cell lines from Ku703A/3A mice are more radiosensitive, have a significant decrease in DNA end resection, and are more sensitive to the DNA cross-linking agent mitomycin C compared to cells from Ku70+/+ littermates. Collectively, these findings demonstrate that mutating the putative Ku70 phosphorylation sites results in defective DNA damage repair and disruption of this process drives genomic instability and accelerated development of HCC.
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