The DNA damage response (DDR) encompasses the cellular response to DNA double-stranded breaks (DSBs), and includes recognition of the DSB, recruitment of numerous factors to the DNA damage site, initiation of signaling cascades, chromatin remodeling, cell-cycle checkpoint activation, and repair of the DSB. Key drivers of the DDR are multiple members of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-related kinase family, including ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM), ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR), and the DNA-dependent protein kinase catalytic subunit (DNA-PKcs). ATM and ATR modulate multiple portions of the DDR, but DNA-PKcs is believed to primarily function in the DSB repair pathway, non-homologous end joining. Utilizing a human cell line in which the kinase domain of DNA-PKcs is inactivated, we show here that DNA-PKcs kinase activity is required for the cellular response to DSBs immediately after their induction. Specifically, DNA-PKcs kinase activity initiates phosphorylation of the chromatin factors H2AX and KAP1 following ionizing radiation exposure and drives local chromatin decondensation near the DSB site. Furthermore, loss of DNA-PKcs kinase activity results in a marked decrease in the recruitment of numerous members of the DDR machinery to DSBs. Collectively, these results provide clear evidence that DNA-PKcs activity is pivotal for the initiation of the DDR.
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