There are ~400 origins of replication in yeast, each of which can be “licensed” by the binding of the conserved origin recognition complex (ORC) and then the MCM replicative helicase complex, all of which happens in G1 phase. During the subsequent S phase, origins are then “activated” by binding of several other replication factors, leading to unwinding and then nascent strand synthesis.
The regulation of origin licensing and activation is a complex, multi-level process, for which numerous aspects of the picture remain unclear. As yeast has the most tools for studying this process, including a full map of origins and numerous options for genetic and biochemical modulations, it presents the ideal model in which to ask probing questions. A recent study by Regan-Mochrie et al. in Genes & Development has revealed the key role of sumoylation in regulation of genome replication.
The origin recognition complex comprises six subunits, encoded by ORC1 to ORC6. The authors built on previous results showing sumoylation of these proteins during DNA damage to ask about their modification status under normal growth. They were able to assess sumoylation status for four of the six subunits, observing various degrees of sumoylation of Orc1p, Orc2p, Orc4p, and Orc5p. They then created a construct to hypersumoylate Orc2p to ask how this affects cells, and found it led to cell lethality. This lethal effect was specific to the Orc protein, as other non-Orc hypersumoylated proteins were tolerated.
The lethality could be rescued by reducing the levels of a SUMO-conjugating enzyme, further indicating the specificity of the effect. The authors identified a subset of early origins that were preferentially inhibited upon hypersumoylation and, upon study, determined that the extra sumoylation interfered with loading of the MCM complex.
After identifying the residues becoming sumoylated on Orc2p, the authors were able to generate mutants to ask about the converse, i.e. hyposumoylation. Indeed, as might be hypothesized, lack of sumoylation caused DNA replication defects via abnormal increased firing of early origins.
Thus, by close study in yeast, the role of sumoylation in genomic stability becomes more clear, where sumoylation of ORC subunits affects loading of the MCM complex, which is itself the substrate for loading of activation factors. Modulated sumoylation status appears to provide a key level of regulatory control.