Biallelic mutations in ataxia-telangiectasia mutated (ATM), which encodes for a protein kinase, cause ataxia telangiectasia (A-T). A-T is a pleiotropic disease, with a characteristic hypersensitivity to ionizing radiation (IR). A-T patients typically lack both detectable ATM protein and ATM kinase activity, and small molecule inhibitors of ATM kinase activity have been developed as strategies to improve radiotherapy for the treatment of cancers. As predicted, inhibition of ATM kinase activity is sufficient to radiosensitize cells. However, we recently showed that inhibition of ATM kinase activity disrupts DNA damage-induced sister chromatid exchange (SCE). This result was unanticipated since SCE is normal in A-T cells that lack detectable ATM protein. In these studies, we showed, for the first time, that the consequences of inhibition of ATM kinase activity and adaptation to ATM protein disruption are distinct. Here, we discuss the mechanistic implications of this finding for the function of ATM at the replication fork and the clinical utility of ATM kinase inhibitors.
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