The ATM (mutated in Ataxia-Telangiectasia) protein kinase is an important player in signaling the presence of DNA double strand breaks (DSBs) in higher eukaryotes. Recent studies suggest that ATM monitors the presence of DNA DSBs indirectly, through DNA DSB-induced changes in chromatin structure. One of the proteins that sense these chromatin structure changes is 53BP1, a DNA damage checkpoint protein conserved in all eukaryotes and the putative ortholog of the S. cerevisiae RAD9 protein. We review here the mechanisms by which ATM is activated in response to DNA DSBs, as well as key ATM substrates that control cell cycle progression, apoptosis and DNA repair.
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