Published in Cell 11, 178(2): 302-315.e23, Jul 2019 (Link)
• Nucleosomes suppress DNA-induced cGAMP synthesis by cGAS
• During mitotic arrest, cGAS promotes a slow buildup of IRF3 phosphorylation
• Phospho-IRF3 promotes mitotic apoptosis independently of transcription induction
• Xenograft experiments and patient data indicate a role for cGAS in Taxol chemotherapy
Pathogenic and other cytoplasmic DNAs activate the cyclic GMP-AMP synthase (cGAS)-stimulator of interferon genes (STING) pathway to induce inflammation via transcriptional activation by IRF3 and nuclear factor κB (NF-κB), but the functional consequences of exposing cGAS to chromosomes upon mitotic nuclear envelope breakdown are unknown. Here, we show that nucleosomes competitively inhibit DNA-dependent cGAS activation and that the cGAS-STING pathway is not effectively activated during normal mitosis. However, during mitotic arrest, low level cGAS-dependent IRF3 phosphorylation slowly accumulates without triggering inflammation. Phosphorylated IRF3, independently of its DNA-binding domain, stimulates apoptosis through alleviating Bcl-xL-dependent suppression of mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization. We propose that slow accumulation of phosphorylated IRF3, normally not sufficient for inducing inflammation, can trigger transcription-independent induction of apoptosis upon mitotic aberrations. Accordingly, expression of cGAS and IRF3 in cancer cells makes mouse xenograft tumors responsive to the anti-mitotic agent Taxol. The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) datasets for non-small cell lung cancer patients also suggest an effect of cGAS expression on taxane response.