Establishing the role of RNF4 in the vertebrate DNA damage response

  • Shijia Joy Chua

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    RNF4 belongs to the family of SUMO-targeted ubiquitin E3 ligases (STUbLs). The role of STUbLs in maintaining genomic stability was first discovered in yeast. The
    yeast STUbL mutants displayed genomic instability, elevated mutation rates, sensitivity to DNA damaging agents and also demonstrated synthetic lethality with other DNA repair genes. Although the role of vertebrate RNF4 in the DNA damage response was not yet established, it could rescue the Schizosaccaromyces pombe STUbL mutant phenotypes, showing that RNF4 is a functional homologue of the yeast STUbL proteins,and that it might be implicated in the vertebrate DNA damage response.

    A homozygous knockout of RNF4 in the DT40 chicken lymphocyte cell line was generated to investigate the involvement of vertebrate RNF4 in protecting cells against DNA damage. Although the complete loss of RNF4 did not affect cell proliferation or cell cycle distribution, the RNF4 -/- cells exhibited a selective hypersensitivity to some S-phase specific DNA damaging agents. This hypersensitivity could be rescued by introducing an ortholog of RNF4 from another vertebrate species, and this was dependent on a functional ubiquitin E3 ligase activity of RNF4.

    To explore the physiological function of RNF4 in the context of a whole
    organism, Danio rerio was chosen as an in vivo model. Danio rerio RNF4 shared
    similar in vitro biochemical characteristics as RNF4 from other vertebrates – it was able to autoubiquitylate itself and also ubiquitylate SUMO2 chains. In Danio rerio, RNF4 is a maternally provided gene and is highly expressed in the adult gonads. In the ovaries, RNF4 expression was restricted to the early stage oocytes, suggesting a possible role in oocyte development. Loss-of-function studies in Danio rerio were performed using morpholino knockdown and zinc-finger knockout technologies, and the depletion of RNF4 in zebrafish did not affect early embryonic development or viability of the animal.

    The results presented in this thesis suggests that while vertebrate RNF4 is not
    likely to be an essential gene in some vertebrates, it plays a role in the DNA damage response and might be implicated in gonad development in Danio rerio. The zinc-finger knockout model has just been established and a more in-depth analysis is necessary to shed more light on the in vivo functions of RNF4.
    Date of Award2012
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsAgency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore
    SupervisorRonald Hay (Supervisor) & David Lane (Supervisor)


    • DNA damage
    • Ubiquitin
    • SUMO
    • Zebrafish
    • DT40

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