Deficits in DNA damage-repair pathways are the root cause of several human cancers. In mammalian cells, DNA double-strand break repair is carried out by multiple mechanisms, including homologous recombination (HR). The partner and localizer of BRCA2 (PALB2), which is an essential factor for HR, binds to the breast cancer susceptibility 1 (BRCA1) protein at DNA double-strand breaks. At the break site, PALB2 also associates with the breast cancer susceptibility 2 (BRCA2) protein to form a multiprotein complex that facilitates HR. The BRCA1-PALB2 interaction is mediated by association of predicted helical coiled-coil regions in both proteins. PALB2 can also homodimerize through the formation of a coiled coil by the self-association of helical elements at the N-terminus of the PALB2 protein, and this homodimerization has been proposed to regulate the efficiency of HR. We have produced a segment of PALB2, designated PALB2cc (PALB2 coiled coil segment) that forms α-helical structures, which assemble into stable homodimers. PALB2cc also forms heterodimers with a helical segment of BRCA1, called BRCA1cc (BRCA1 coiled coil segment). The three-dimensional structure of the homodimer formed by PALB2cc was determined by solution NMR spectroscopy. This PALB2cc homodimer is a classical antiparallel coiled-coil leucine zipper. NMR chemical-shift perturbation studies were used to study dimer formation for both the PALB2cc homodimer and the PALB2cc/BRCA1cc heterodimer. The mutation of residue Leu24 of PALB2cc significantly reduces its homodimer stability, but has a more modest effect on the stability of the heterodimer formed between PALB2cc and BRCA1cc. We show that mutation of Leu24 leads to genomic instability and reduced cell viability after treatment with agents that induce DNA double-strand breaks. These studies may allow the identification of distinct mutations of PALB2cc that selectively disrupt homodimeric versus heterodimeric interactions, and reveal the specific role of PALB2cc homodimerization in HR.
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