DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are mainly repaired either by homologous recombination (HR) or by nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) pathways. Here, we showed that myeloid cell leukemia sequence 1 (Mcl-1) acts as a functional switch in selecting between HR and NHEJ pathways. Mcl-1 was cell cycle–regulated during HR, with its expression peaking in S/G2 phase. While endogenous Mcl-1 depletion reduced HR and enhanced NHEJ, Mcl-1 overexpression resulted in a net increase in HR over NHEJ. Mcl-1 directly interacted with the dimeric Ku protein complex via its Bcl-2 homology 1 and 3 (BH1 and BH3) domains, which are required for Mcl-1 to inhibit Ku-mediated NHEJ. Mcl-1 also promoted DNA resection mediated by the Mre11 complex and HR-dependent DSB repair. Using the Mcl-1 BH1 domain as a docking site, we identified a small molecule, MI-223, that directly bound to BH1 and blocked Mcl-1–stimulated HR DNA repair, leading to sensitization of cancer cells to hydroxyurea- or olaparib-induced DNA replication stress. Combined treatment with MI-223 and hydroxyurea or olaparib exhibited a strong synergy against lung cancer in vivo. This mechanism-driven combination of agents provides a highly attractive therapeutic strategy to improve lung cancer outcomes.


Guo Chen, Andrew T. Magis, Ke Xu, Dongkyoo Park, David S. Yu, Taofeek K. Owonikoko, Gabriel L. Sica, Sarah W. Satola, Suresh S. Ramalingam, Walter J. Curran, Paul W. Doetsch, Xingming Deng


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