TopBP1 assembles nuclear condensates to switch on ATR signaling.
Abstract: ATR checkpoint signaling is crucial for cellular responses to DNA replication impediments. Using an optogenetic platform, we show that TopBP1, the main activator of ATR, self-assembles extensively to yield micrometer-sized condensates. These opto-TopBP1 condensates are functional entities organized in tightly packed clusters of spherical nano-particles. TopBP1 condensates are reversible, occasionally fuse, and co-localize with TopBP1 partner proteins. We provide evidence that TopBP1 condensation is a molecular switch that amplifies ATR activity to phosphorylate checkpoint kinase 1 (Chk1) and slow down replication forks. Single amino acid substitutions of key residues in the intrinsically disordered ATR activation domain disrupt TopBP1 condensation and consequently ATR/Chk1 signaling. In physiologic salt concentration and pH, purified TopBP1 undergoes liquid-liquid phase separation in vitro. We propose that the actuation mechanism of ATR signaling is the assembly of TopBP1 condensates driven by highly regulated multivalent and cooperative interactions.