DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are highly toxic lesions that can drive genetic instability. These lesions also contribute to the efficacy of radiotherapy and many cancer chemotherapeutics. DNA repair efficiency is regulated by both intracellular and extracellular chemical signals. However, it is largely unknown whether this process is regulated by physical stimuli such as extracellular mechanical signals. Here, we report that DSB repair is regulated by extracellular mechanical signals. Low extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness impairs DSB repair and renders cells sensitive to genotoxic agents. Mechanistically, we found that the MAP4K4/6/7 kinases are activated and phosphorylate ubiquitin in cells at low stiffness. Phosphorylated ubiquitin impairs RNF8-mediated ubiquitin signaling at DSB sites, leading to DSB repair deficiency. Our results thus demonstrate that ECM stiffness regulates DSB repair efficiency and genotoxic sensitivity through MAP4K4/6/7 kinase–mediated ubiquitin phosphorylation, providing a previously unidentified regulation in DSB-induced ubiquitin signaling.
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