DNA damage and genome instability by G-quadruplex ligands are mediated by R loops in human cancer cells.


Department of Pharmacy and Biotechnology, Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna, 40126 Bologna, Italy; [Email]


G quadruplexes (G4s) and R loops are noncanonical DNA structures that can regulate basic nuclear processes and trigger DNA damage, genome instability, and cell killing. By different technical approaches, we here establish that specific G4 ligands stabilize G4s and simultaneously increase R-loop levels within minutes in human cancer cells. Genome-wide mapping of R loops showed that the studied G4 ligands likely cause the spreading of R loops to adjacent regions containing G4 structures, preferentially at 3'-end regions of expressed genes, which are partially ligand-specific. Overexpression of an exogenous human RNaseH1 rescued DNA damage induced by G4 ligands in BRCA2-proficient and BRCA2-silenced cancer cells. Moreover, even if the studied G4 ligands increased noncanonical DNA structures at similar levels in nuclear chromatin, their cellular effects were different in relation to cell-killing activity and stimulation of micronuclei, a hallmark of genome instability. Our findings therefore establish that G4 ligands can induce DNA damage by an R loop-dependent mechanism that can eventually lead to different cellular consequences depending on the chemical nature of the ligands.


DNA cleavage,G-quadruplex ligand,R loop,antitumor activity,genome instability,