Paradoxes of eukaryotic DNA replication: MCM proteins and the random completion problem.
ABSTRACT Eukaryotic DNA replication initiates at multiple origins. In early fly and frog embryos, chromosomal replication is very rapid and initiates without sequence specificity. Despite this apparent randomness, the spacing of these numerous initiation sites must be sufficiently regular for the genome to be completely replicated on time. Studies in various eukaryotes have revealed that there is a strict temporal separation of origin "licensing" prior to S phase and origin activation during S phase. This may suggest that replicon size must be already established at the licensing stage. However, recent experiments suggest that a large excess of potential origins are assembled along chromatin during licensing. Thus, a regular replicon size may result from the selection of origins during S phase. We review single molecule analyses of origin activation and other experiments addressing this issue and their general significance for eukaryotic DNA replication.
[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: The recent identification of proteins that recognize origins of DNA replication and control the initiation of eukaryotic DNA replication has provided critical molecular tools to dissect this process. Dynamic changes in the assembly and disassembly of protein complexes at origins are important for the initiation of DNA replication and occur throughout the cell cycle. Herein, we review the key proteins required for the initiation of DNA replication, their involvement in the protein complex assembly at replication origins, and how the cell cycle machinery regulates this process.Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology 02/1997; 13:293-332. · 15.84 Impact Factor
[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: A conserved network of signal transduction pathways prevents mitosis if DNA is damaged or its synthesis incomplete. Loss of this checkpoint control is detrimental to the developing embryo. Recent studies have shed new light on how the essential ATR and Chk1 protein kinases cooperate to prevent such a crisis.Current Biology 03/2001; 11(4):R121-4. · 9.65 Impact Factor
Article: Chromosomal replication initiates and terminates at random sequences but at regular intervals in the ribosomal DNA of Xenopus early embryos.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: We have analysed the replication of the chromosomal ribosomal DNA (rDNA) cluster in Xenopus embryos before the midblastula transition. Two-dimensional gel analysis showed that replication forks are associated with the nuclear matrix, as in differentiated cells, and gave no evidence for single-stranded replication intermediates (RIs). Bubbles, simple forks and double Ys were found in each restriction fragment analysed, showing that replication initiates and terminates without detectable sequence specificity. Quantification of the results and mathematical analysis showed that the average rDNA replicon replicates in 7.5 min and is 9-12 kbp in length. This time is close to the total S phase duration, and this replicon size is close to the maximum length of DNA which can be replicated from a single origin within this short S phase. We therefore infer that (i) most rDNA origins must be synchronously activated soon in S phase and (ii) origins must be evenly spaced, in order that no stretch of chromosomal DNA is left unreplicated at the end of S phase. Since origins are not specific sequences, it is suggested that this spatially and temporally concerted pattern of initiation matches some periodic chromatin folding, which itself need not rely on DNA sequence.The EMBO Journal 01/1994; 12(12):4511-20. · 9.20 Impact Factor
Paradoxes of eukaryotic DNA
replication: MCM proteins and the
random completion problem
Olivier Hyrien,1* Kathrin Marheineke,1and Arach Goldar2
early fly and frog embryos, chromosomal replication is
very rapid and initiates without sequence specificity.
Despite this apparent randomness, the spacing of these
numerous initiation sites must be sufficiently regular for
the genome to be completely replicated on time. Studies
in various eukaryotes have revealed that there is a strict
and origin activation during S phase. This may suggest
that replicon size must be already established at the
licensing stage. However, recent experiments suggest
that a large excess of potential origins are assembled
along chromatin during licensing. Thus, a regular repli-
con size may result from the selection of origins during
S phase. We review single molecule analyses of origin
activation and other experiments addressing this issue
and their general significance for eukaryotic DNA repli-
cation.CopyrightBioEssays 25:116–125, 2003.
? 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
stability in all organisms. In eukaryotes, DNA is normally
replicated once and only once during each S phase. As repli-
requires a strict control of origin density and time of activation.
Work in Xenopus and yeasts has led to significant under-
standing of the mechanisms that prevent origins from ‘‘firing’’
ensure that no stretch of the entire genome is left unreplicated
beyond the normal duration of S phase are not yet clear.
Studies with replication inhibitors have shown that many
eukaryotic cells are able to delay entry into mitosis in the
presence of unreplicated DNA (the S/M checkpoint).(2)How-
ever, a mitosis-delaying mechanism cannot, by definition,
explain the timely replication of the whole genome in an
unperturbed S phase. The problem is particularly crucial in
early embryos of insects and amphibians, which have an
accelerated cell cycle but initiate replication at random
sequences(3,4)and lack an efficient S/M checkpoint.(5,6)Early
embryos treated with replication inhibitors undergo mitosis on
schedule, resulting in catastrophic chromosomal damage.
Thus, failure of a single replication origin may have disastrous
consequences. Nevertheless, unperturbed embryos develop
mechanism to complete genome replication on time. We first
summarize current knowledge of eukaryotic DNA replication
origins then focus on recent studies of origin activation in
Xenopus egg extracts that begin to answer this problem.
Proteins at eukaryotic replication origins
and the ‘‘MCM paradox’’
MCM2-7 proteins are minichromosomemaintenance proteins
first identified for their role in plasmid replication or cell cycle
progression in yeast. Studies in various eukaryotes have
defined a conserved pathway of cell-cycle-regulated protein
assembly and disassembly at DNA replication origins. This
pathway (extensively reviewed elsewhere, Ref. 1) involves at
least 20 different proteins but can be summarized as two
temporally separate steps, the recruitment and the activation
of the MCM2-7 complex (Fig. 1). MCM2-7 proteins interact
with each other and all six are required both for initiation and
elongation of DNA replication. MCM2-7 proteins can form a
possess helicase activity.(7,8)It is generally believed, though
BioEssays 25:116–125, ? 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
1Ge ´ne ´tique Mole ´culaire-UMR CNRS 8541, Ecole Normale Supe ´r-
2CEA/Saclay, Laboratoire de Biophysique de l’ADN, DBCM, Gif-
Funding agencies: The O.H. lab is supported by the Association
pour la Recherche sur le Cancer, the Ligue Nationale Contre le
Cancer (Comite ´ de Paris) and the Association Franc ¸aise contre les
*Correspondence to: Olivier Hyrien, Ge ´ne ´tique Mole ´culaire. UMR
CNRS 8541, Ecole Normale Supe ´rieure, 46 rue d’Ulm, 75 230 Paris
Cedex 05, France. E-mail: email@example.com
Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com).
Abbreviations: ARS, autonomously replicating sequence. CDC, cell
division cycle. CDK, cyclin-dependent kinase. CHO, Chinese hamster
ovary. DHFR, dihydrofolate reductase. MCM, minichromosome main-
tenance proteins. ORC, origin recognition complex. Pre-RC, prerepli-
cative complex. rDNA, DNA containing the tandemly repeated
ribosomal RNA genes. S-CDK, S-phase cyclin-dependent kinase.
not proven, that MCMs form the eukaryotic DNA replication
fork helicase.(9)The recruitment of the MCM2-7 complex at
origins (called replication ‘‘licensing’’) takes place during late
mitosis and the G1phase, in preparation for the next round of
of six proteins first identified in budding yeast, the origin
recognition complex (ORC).(10)In yeast, ORC binds replica-
tion origins directly and stably across the cell cycle.(11)In
metazoa, the stability of chromatin association of ORC is
higher at the G1/S transition.(12)Origin licensing also requires
CDC6 and CDT1, which must both interact with ORC to load
MCM2-7 onto chromatin.(13–15)Importantly, once MCM2-7
have been loaded, ORC and probably CDC6 and CDT1
become dispensable for subsequent replication.(14,16,17)
Once loaded, MCM2-7 complexes await activation during
S phase. This process is triggered by at least two kinases,
CDC7/DBF4 and the S-CDKs, and involves the ordered
assembly of additional proteins, among which CDC45 has
emerged as a pivotal factor.(1)CDC45 origin association
triggers origin DNA unwinding and ultimately leads to the
association of DNA polymerases with the unwound DNA
(Fig. 1).(18,19)In yeast, MCM2-7 dissociate from origins either
upon replication initiation(20,21)or upon passive replication
from a neighboring origin.(22,23)Biochemical and immuno-
fluorescence studies in metazoan cells also suggest that
MCMs are progressively excluded from replicated chromatin
during S phase.(24–29)The reloading of MCMs is prevented
interfere with various functions of ORC, CDC6 and MCMs in
licensing.(30)Geminin (only found in metazoa) binds and
round of origin licensing can only take place after sister
loading and activation and the release of MCMs from repli-
cated DNA ensure that no sequence is replicated more than
once in a single S phase.
Although several lines of evidence argue that the MCMs
form the replicative DNA helicase, some observations are not
easily explained by this model. First, immunofluorescence
studies in mammalian cells(26–28)and in frog egg extracts(29)
as RP-A and PCNA, which colocalize with newly replicated
DNA, most of the MCMs colocalize with unreplicated DNA.
One study showed a lack of co-localization of MCMs directly
with RP-A and PCNA, or with DNA synthesized during the
period preceding fixation.(26)Second, chromatin immunopre-
cipitation experiments suggest that ORC and MCMs do not
in cells arrested at the G1/S boundary.(33)Finally, the number
of chromatin-bound MCM complexes exceeds the number of
replication origins and ORC complexes by a factor of 10–100
in various organisms. The ‘‘MCM paradox’’(26)is that MCM
proteins are in vast excess and do not colocalize with
Dispersive versus site-specific initiation
While replication initiation proteins are widely conserved,
replication origins are not.(34)In S. cerevisiae, specific se-
quences that can promote autonomous plasmid replication
(autonomously replicating sequences; ARSs) define the sites
where the synthesis of new DNA strands starts both on
plasmids and within yeast chromosomes.(35)Genomic foot-
MCM2-7 bind alongside ORC to form a larger prereplicative
complex (pre-RC).(36)High-resolution mapping has shown
that replication initiates precisely at the center of the pre-RC
footprint for one ARS.(37)
In contrast to yeast, attempts to isolate specific sequences
that provide autonomous replication to transfected plasmids
in animal cells have been inconclusive.(34)In one study with
human cells, any sequence appeared suitable provided it is
at multiple, apparently random sites on the plasmid.(39)
has given more complex results. At loci such as the human
lamin B2(40)and b-globin(41)genes, replication initiates at
Figure 1. Licensing and activation of replication
G1phase onto replication origins by ORC, CDT1
and CDC6 (origin licensing). Pre-replication com-
plexes (Pre-RC) are activated at the G1/S transi-
tion by two kinases, CDC7/DBF4 and S-CDKs.
A key step in this transition to replication is the
recruitment of CDC45. MCM2-7 dissociate from
DNA asS phaseprogresses.ReloadingofMCM2-
7 is prevented by at least two inhibitors, geminin
and the CDKs. This inhibition persists until cells
pass through mitosis, when geminin and cyclins
Chinese hamster DHFR(42)and rhodopsin(43)loci and human
rDNA,(44)replication can initiate at any of a large number of
sites within a broad (5–50 kb) zone. Although detailed studies
of the DHFR locus suggest that some sites within the broad
zone might be preferred, an exact quantitation is technically
difficult and remains debatable.(42)
is found during the early development of Drosophila and
Xenopus. In these organisms, the first cell cycles following
fertilization are characterized by a very brief S phase, a lack of
somal replication is accelerated by the use of closely spaced
origins (average interval ?10 kb). Importantly, replication
initiates with no regard to specific sequences in these early
embryos.(3,4)Circumscribed initiation zones are only detected
after the midblastula transition, when chromatin is remodelled
and zygotic transcription resumes.(45–47)The mechanism of
this developmental transition remains unexplained. However,
studies of the Chinese hamster DHFR locus suggest that
cycle,(48)and is an event distinct from replication licensing,
which occurs earlier, during late telophase.(49)Prior to this
‘‘origin decision point’’, early G1nuclei appear competent to
initiate at random sequences in proper experimental condi-
tions. Therefore, the developmental acquisition of a G1phase
may be relevant to the specification of replication origins after
the midblastula transition.
Replication timing programme
The time required to complete genome replication depends
not only on origin spacing but also on the temporal program of
origin activation. In most cells, origins are not synchronously
activated but fire in a reproducible order through S phase.(50)
This timing is established during the G1phase of each cell
cycle.(51)In mammalian cells, the ‘‘timing decision point’’
occurs in early G1(after replication licensing but before the
origin decision point), simultaneously with the repositioning of
sequences in the nucleus after mitosis.(52)The b-globin locus
has been shown to move to the nuclear periphery during early
G1phase coincident with theestablishment ofits mid-Sphase
replication program in CHO cells.(53)In yeast,late origins tend
to localize close to the periphery of the nucleus specifically
during G1 phase while early origins are more randomly
localized.(54)These results suggest that origins may be
modified in specific nuclear compartments during the G1
phase to determine their initiation time. The molecular nature
of these modifications is currently unknown.
Do early Drosophila and Xenopus embryos have a
replication timing program? In contrast to the earlier assump-
tion that origins fire synchronously at the onset of S phase in
these embryos,(55–57)recent studies have clearly established
or sperm nuclei(59–61)replicate in Xenopus egg extracts.
However, it is still unclear whether specific sequences
replicate at a specific time in this system. Evidence against
this is the observation that, in Xenopus egg extracts, differ-
entiated nuclear compartments are not obvious and a single
type of replication foci (intranuclear sites of DNA synthesis)
persists throughout S phase.(62)This is in contrast to adult
cells, which have a clear replication timing program, where
patches of euchromatin and heterochromatin are obvious and
different types of replication foci are active at different stages
of S phase.(63)However, it has been reported that somatic 5S
genes may replicate prior to oocyte-type 5S genes when
Xenopus sperm are replicated in Xenopus egg extracts, but
this was only seen at high sperm concentrations that resulted
in artificial extension of S phase.(64)These experimental
conditions may reproduce the slower S phase of embryos that
have passed the midblastula transition rather than the brief S
phase typical of early embryos.
The random completion problem
The regulation of origin spacing and time of activation is
particularly crucial in the early Xenopus embryo. The fertilized
Xenopus egg undergoes 12 synchronous rounds of cell
division in only 7 hours, as opposed to a somatic cell cycle
G2phases. The rate of replication fork progression is 0.5 kb/
minute,(65)so that the two replication forks initiated from a
Therefore, to replicate the entire diploid genome (6.2?
109bp), none of the required >300 000 initiation events can
be more than 20 kb from its neighbour, assuming that all
origins fire synchronously at the onset of S phase. But since
initiation events are not synchronous, they must be spaced
even more closely. The same problem applies to the early
Drosophila embryo, in which forks progress more rapidly
(2.6 kb/minute) but S phase is shorter (3–4 minutes).
The observed average spacing of replication bubbles in
or Xenopus.(3,58–61)This value overestimates origin spacing
since a single bubble may arise from the merging of two
adjacent bubbles, and some origins may have not fired at the
time that DNA is extracted for analysis. An origin spacing of
<8–15 kb may at first sight seem comfortable given the upper
limit of 20 kb for replicon size. However, if origins were
positioned randomly, there would be a geometric distribution
of interorigin distances (Fig. 3B, red curve). With a mean
spacing of 10 kb, the probability that any pair of neighboring
consequence would be that a large number of gaps of
unreplicated DNA would persist at the end of S phase. All
available data suggest that the fork rate does not increase at
the end of S phase. Therefore, to ensure the complete
replication of each chromosome, the spacing of replication
initiation sites has to be more regular than predicted from a
geometric distribution, despite the lack of sequence-specific
initiation. This paradox, first noticed long ago,(66)was recently
christened the ‘‘random completion problem’’.(60)
Possible solutions to the random
There are two theoretical solutions to the random completion
problem (Fig. 2). The first one is that, despite their lack of
phase at regular, not random, intervals.(3,60)The nature of the
licensing process. By analogy, spacing patterns are known to
support of this ‘‘fixed spacing’’ model, it has been observed
that the binding of Xenopus ORC to sperm chromatin in egg
extract saturates at about one copy per 8–16 kb,(57,67)which
unidentified chromatin proteins somehow constrain ORC
binding. One problem with the ‘‘fixed spacing’’ model is that
origin firing must be extremely efficient, since a single un-
replicated gap could be lethal.
The second solution is that a large excess of potential
the selection of those origins that fire results in a sufficiently
as the ‘‘origin redundancy’’ model. Although the saturation of
sperm chromatin by relatively low concentrations of ORC
seems inconsistent with a large excess of potential origins, it
no longer required for initiation once MCMs have been
loaded.(16,17)Based on these facts, Lucas et al.(58)have
suggested that potential origins might be defined by individual
MCM complexes spread along chromatin away from ORC
rather than by ORC itself. Importantly, recent experiments by
Edwards et al.(69)support this view (see below). A key feature
of the ‘‘origin redundancy’’ model is that any stretch of un-
replicated DNAwould remain competent forinitiation through-
new origins during S phase.
Note that an excess of potential origins is not by itself
every 100 bp for example, but activated synchronously with a
10 kb spacing), a geometric distribution of inter-initiation
distances would again result, with a significant tail of >20 kb
distances. However, if initiation isnot synchronous, a different
distributionofreplication startsiteswill result.First,originsare
inactivated when they are passively replicated, reducing the
probability of closely spaced initiations. Note that origin inter-
ference may also occur by other mechanisms in advance of
replication fork passage. Second, if initiation is a stochastic
process, the evolution of this process will depend on both I(t),
The frequency of initiation, I(t) is defined as the probability of
initiation per unit length of unreplicated DNA per unit time, at
time t. In contrast to V, which is presumed to be constant, the
frequency of initiation may change over time. This may also
affect the final distribution of initiation events.
Discriminating between the ‘‘fixed spacing model’’ and the
‘‘origin redundancy model’’ requires a direct examination of
origin firing at the single molecule level and a molecular
Figure 2. Two theoretical solutions to the random completion problem in early Xenopus embryos. A: Fixed spacing model. Potential
origins are assembled before S phase at regular, not random intervals. Each origin fires with a high efficiency during S phase. B: Origin
‘‘selection’’ within unreplicated gaps ultimately ensures their timely replication.
definition of ‘‘potential origins’’. Some relevant work is
Electron microscopy of replicating DNA
In a remarkable pioneering study, Blumenthal et al.(55)used
the early Drosophila embryo. They measured the lengths of
replication eyes (bubbles) and the distances between the
centers of consecutive eyes on segments of replicating
chromosomal DNA (see Fig. 3A). The data were classified
according to the fraction of the segment containing the eyes
that had been replicated, so as to derive a picture of origin
activation during S phase. First, the distances between the
centers of adjacent eyes were found to distribute widely
around a 7.9 kb mean, with a tendency to peak at integral
Figure 3. Distribution of eye-to-eye distances: observa-
tions and models. A: Eye-to-eye distances (ETED) and
replication eye lengths (EL) can be measuredon individual
fibers using electron microscopy or molecular combing
or fiber spreading of labeled DNA. B: The distribution of
ETEDs peaks around 10 kb for sperm nuclei replicated in
Xenopus egg extracts for 42 minutes and analysed
by molecular combing (n¼419, mean¼13,7 kb, mean
replication content of fibers 42%). ETEDs of all fibers were
grouped in 2 kb classes and plotted against the middle of
each size interval (squares). The red curve shows the
at random with the same mean distance (13.7 kb).
Assuming a lattice of potential binding sites spaced at
Z kb intervals, with a probability m of filling each site, the
probability that two consecutive origins are spaced by
NZ kb would be P(N)¼m(1-m)N-1. The curve shown is
assuming Z¼2 kb and m¼2/13.7. (C) Computer simula-
potential origins are abundant (one every 100 bp) and that
the frequency of initiation I(t) increases through S phase
in the way inferred from molecular combing data(75);
fitted curve in red (A. Goldar, unpublished results).
assessed, this result argued for periodic initiation. Second,
Blumenthal et al. found that the mean eye density rapidly
increases with replication extent to reach a plateau when 20–
30% of the segment is replicated. This plateau is maintained
is completed. Based on these data, it was suggested that
initiation events are highly synchronized and occur during
the first 30% of replication, and that the eyes grow with little
merging until 70% replication when termination becomes
More recently, Lucas et al.(58)used electron microscopy to
examine the replication of plasmids of a broad size range in
is assembled into chromatin then into synthetic nuclei and is
replicated under cell-cycle control.(70,71)Plasmid replication
somal replication in early embryos.(3,65,72)Multiple eyes were
a single eye per molecule on a 9 kb plasmid, consistent with
origin interference over a limited distance. When multiple
eyes were observed, they were spaced at broadly distributed
intervals with a ?10 kb mean. Initiation was not synchronous.
eyes of very different sizes coexisted on single molecules.
of the plasmid molecule that had replicated, suggesting that
despite the dwindling length of unreplicated DNA remaining
available for initiation. The authors suggested that potential
origins are abundant and randomly distributed, but that origin
interference and the increase of initiation frequency during
S phase modulate origin firing so as to accelerate the com-
pletion of DNA replication.
These conclusions contrast with the suggestion of
Blumenthal et al.(55)that initiation is confined to the beginning
of S phase. However, their observation that the mean eye
density stays at a plateau at 30–70% replication could simply
during mid-S phase. In fact Blumenthal et al. reported a signi-
ficant fraction of small eyes on segments that are up to 90%
Molecular combing and fiber
To address the possibility that plasmid DNA replication in egg
extracts may not faithfully mimic embryonic chromosome
replication, Herrick et al.(59)and Marheineke and Hyrien(61)
studied the replication of sperm nuclei in Xenopus egg
extracts. Sperm nuclei were labelled during replication by
addition of biotin-dUTP at the start of the incubation and
digoxigenin-dUTP at a varying time. After complete replica-
tion, the DNA was purified and stretched on a glass slide
by a technique called molecular combing.(73)The alter-
nating sections of early-(biotin-labelled) and late-(biotinþ
digoxigenin-labelled) replicated DNA were examined by
optical microscopy using fluorescent antibodies. A decisive
advantadge of molecular combing is that DNA molecules are
aligned in a parallel fashion and stretched to a uniform and
reproducible extent (2 kb/mm), facilitating statistical analysis
and eliminating the selection of appropriately spread fibers
inherent to other techniques.
The data largely confirmed the conclusions obtained with
plasmids. First, eye-to-eye distances were broadly distributed
was observed at each time point and eyes of very different
sizes occured next to each other even on short (100–200 kb)
fibers. Importantly, the frequency of initiation estimated from
that had replicated,(59,61)as previously inferred from studies
with plasmids.(58)Based on the analogy of DNA replication
to one-dimensional crystal nucleation, growth and coales-
cence, the mathematical formalism derived long ago by
Kolmogorov(74)to describe the kinetics of crystal growth in
the three-dimensional space has been applied to the combing
data to derive a refined expression for the frequency of
significance of this observation remains to be understood.
It should be noted that the distributions of eye-to-eye dis-
tances observed in Drosophila or in Xenopus differ from a
geometric distribution, showing fewer distances in the 0–5 kb
red curve). However this does not imply that potential origins
are non-randomly distributed. A computer simulation shown
on Fig. 3C illustrates that this type of distribution can result
However, a different interpretation has been suggested
by Blow et al.(60)In this study, sperm nuclei replicating in egg
extracts were labeled using a single pulse of [3H]dTTP or
BrdUTP of varying length, and the DNA was spread and
visualized by autoradiography or using a different technique
called DIRVISH.(76)Although the distributions of eye-to-
eye distances were very similar to those observed by comb-
ing, Blow et al. suggested that the clustering of distances
in the 5–15 kb range implies a non-random origin distr-
ibution. It was found that reducing the amount of ORC that
assembles on the DNA by partial ORC immunodepletion of
the extract increases the average spacing of initiation
events.(57,60)This result would be consistent with the idea
that each origin is specified by the binding of a single ORC
molecule. Computer simulations confirmed that in this case,
ORC has to be deposited in a regular pattern every 5–15 kb
in order to account for the observed distribution of eye-
to-eye distances. If there are no potential origins between
ORC-binding sites, a random deposition of ORC would un-
avoidably lead to a significant proportion of excessively large
replicons. However, recent experiments by Edwards et al.(69)
question the idea that potential origins coincide with ORC-
binding sites (see below).
similar lengths, both in early and late replicating DNA, and
firing at different times in S phase. This conclusion seemed at
odds with the observation that eyes of very different lengths
occur next to each other on combed DNA fibers.(59,61)In fact,
the correlation found by Blow et al. between the size of
adjacent eyes is significant but weak (r¼0.16, P<0.0001).
fourth eye size (unpublished). Although a few fibers do show
the appearance of clusters, most do not. The results may
depend in part on the protocol used to label and spread DNA.
Unlike molecular combing, the DIRVISH technique does not
spread DNA in a straight fashion and does not visualize
unreplicated DNA due to the use of a single labeling pulse.
Therefore the confidence that two successive eyes belong to
the same fiber declines with distance, which may bias the
suggest that the correlation coefficients are too weak to
conclude that highly synchronous clusters are the predomi-
nant organization of DNA replication in Xenopus egg extracts.
To investigate how the time of activation of each origin is
controlled, Marheineke and Hyrien(61)used molecular comb-
ing to follow the replication of single fibers after release from a
block with aphidicolin, a DNA polymerase inhibitor. Only a
fraction of the origins was found to initiate in the presence of
aphidicolin, and the rest were found to fire asynchronously
through S phase after release. Therefore, continuing initiation
during S phase depends on the normal progression of forks
assembled at previously activated origins. This suggests that
some mechanism may limit the number of simultaneously
previously observed in Drosophila,(55)implies that the fre-
quency of initiation is equal to the frequency of termination
during the plateau period. In other words, once a certain
number of forks have been assembled, further initiation
seems to depend on the completion of previously active
replicons, which is prevented by aphidicolin. This regulation
may involve the recycling of some limiting component of the
replication forks, or the monitoring of total fork number by a
checkpoint. By maintaining a constant replication rate despite
random bubble mergers, this mechanism would ensure a
timely completion of DNA synthesis and explain why the
frequency of initiation increases through S phase. The
frequency of initiation (number of new initiations per unit
length of unreplicated DNA per unit time, at time t) has to
increase because, as S phase proceeds, the total number of
bubbles per nucleus is kept constant whereas the length of
unreplicated DNA decreases and an increasing fraction of
preexisting bubbles merge.
Potential origins and pre-RC assembly
A key difference between the ‘‘fixed spacing’’ and the ‘‘origin
redundancy’’ models lies in the number and molecular nature
of potential origins. In budding yeast, replication initiates im-
origin.(37)Furthermore, genome-wide studies of both initiation
the notion that potential origins are defined by ORC binding
sites in this organism.
In metazoa, however, neither replication start sites nor
ORC binding sites show a consensus sequence.(34)ORC and
linking in several systems. Distinct ORC binding sites have
been identified adjacentto replication start sitesin a fly(79)and
a human(80)gene. However, ORC appears to bind in a less
specific manner at the Drosophila chorion gene locus.(81)
Furthermore, MCMs are broadly distributed over the DHFR
initiation zone in Chinese hamster cells,(82)and ORC and
MCM proteins do not in general reside on closely adjacent
sites in bulk mammalian chromatin.(33)
Recent experiments by Edwards et al.(69)using a novel
chromatin-binding assay directly address this point. In this
assay, a linear DNA fragment is coupled to magnetic beads,
RC formation. It was found that ORC binding, as well as the
ORC-dependent binding of MCM2-7, requires a minimum
fragment size of 82 bp. When DNA fragment length was
increased incrementally up to 6 kb, the amount of ORC bound
per molecule of DNA remained unchanged whereas the
MCM:ORC ratio increased from 1:1 on the 82 bp fragment
to 20:1 on the 6 kb fragment, almost as high as on sperm
chromatin. Therefore each ORC complex appears to recruit
multiple MCM complexes that spread laterally along the DNA
(Fig. 4A). Interestingly, licensing inhibition by geminin caused
suggesting that licensing regulates ORC binding.
Edwards et al. also found that, on sperm chromatin, all
chromatin-bound MCM complexes can be phosphorylated by
CDC7/DBF4 upon addition of a concentrated nucleoplasmic
extract, suggesting that all are potential start sites. However,
CDC45:ORC. This ratio was unchanged in the presence of
aphidicolin, but increased ?20 fold in the presence of actino-
most chromatin-bound MCM complexes are competent to
bind CDC45 but that productive initiation at the first MCM
complex inactivates neighboring complexes up to a certain
distance (Fig. 4B). In summary, these data suggest that a
single ORC recruits many potential start sites that are spread
over a zone of several kb, as previously suggested.(58)
One unresolved question with this model is that, in
S. cerevisiae, which also shows an excess of bound MCM
proteins compared to ORC, there seems to be a very tight
association of replication initiation with ORC binding site.
appear to be preferential activation of ORC-proximal MCM
complexes. Edwards et al.(69)point out that, in yeast, CDC7
recruitment to origins requires ORC,(83)whereas in higher
eukaryotes CDC7 recruitment is MCM-dependent but ORC-
independent.(84)This may explain why ORC-distal MCM
complexes are initiation-competent only in higher eukaryotes.
Another consideration is that potentially this model in-
be loaded away from ORC directly by some looping mechan-
ism, or if they have first to bind chromatin close to ORC and
then move away. Assuming this movement is at a similar rate
few minutes for MCMs to spread over a few kb around ORC
observation that complete MCM binding is only achieved
several minutes after ORC binding to sperm chromatin in egg
extracts.(84)How the kinetics of licensing in early embryos
compares to that observed in egg extracts remains to be
It is interesting to consider the difference between a mech-
anism that limits the assembly of potential origins at regular
intervals, and one that limits the firing/binding of CDC45 to
one out of multiple MCM complexes. In the first case, origins
cannot fire at close intervals whereas, in the second case,
closely spaced bubbles may still occur if inactivation of the
neighboring MCM complexes cannot extend to those loaded
from a different ORC. The puzzling observation that only a
single initiation event occurs on a 9 kb plasmid whereas
intervals much smaller than 9 kb(58)would be consistent with
the second mechanism.
redundancy’’ model (Fig. 2B). First, the observed distributions
of replication eyes along the DNA are easily explained by this
and, at least in Xenopus, all appear competent for initiation as
predicted for redundant potential origins. Third, the frequency
of initiation appears to increase markedly through S phase in
order to maintain a constant fork density despite replicon
fusion. In addition, there is evidence for ‘‘lateral inhibition’’
mechanisms at both the licensing and the activation stage.
MCM loading appears to restrict ORC binding to once every
5–10 kb even on very simple DNA substrates, a potential
mechanism to regularize ORC spacing and therefore max-
imize MCM loading. In addition, productive initiation prevents
origin interference in advance of fork progression. Several
questions remain, however. Do adjacent MCM-loading zones
coalesce or do MCM-free gaps remain in unreplicated DNA?
Are ORC-proximal and ORC-distal MCM complexes equally
likely to support initiation? How are origin interference and the
frequency of initiation controlled? In early embryos, all the
above mechanisms are likely to cooperate in order to ensure
the timely replication of the early embryonic genome. In adult
somatic cells, replication initiates either at specific sites or at
extent of MCM spreading at different loci.
We apologize to the many colleagues whose work was not
cited due to space limitations. We thank E. Heard, M.-N.
Figure 4. Model of replication initiation to account for
abundant potential origins.(58,69)A: Prior to S phase, a
single ORC molecule recruits multiples MCM2-7 com-
plexes which spread several kb away from ORC. B:
Following activation by CDC7/DBF4 and S-CDKs, the
leads to inactivation of neighbouring MCM complexes.
Adapted from Edwards et al.(69)
the manuscript, J.-L. Sikorav for discussions and the referees
for their constructive criticism.
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