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This article has been peer reviewed and is published in BMC Molecular Cancer Volume 5, 2 November 2006, Article number 52. The published version is available at DOI: 10.1186/1476-4598-5-52. Copyright © BioMed Central Ltd.


BACKGROUND: The structural maintenance of chromosome 3 (SMC3) protein is a constituent of a number of nuclear multimeric protein complexes that are involved in DNA recombination and repair in addition to chromosomal segregation. Overexpression of SMC3 activates a tumorigenic cascade through which mammalian cells acquire a transformed phenotype. This has led us to examine in depth how SMC3 level affects cell growth and genomic stability. In this paper the effect of SMC3 knockdown has been investigated. RESULTS: Mammalian cells that are SMC3 deficient fail to expand in a clonal population. In order to shed light on the underlying mechanism, experiments were conducted in zebrafish embryos in which cell competence to undergo apoptosis is acquired at specific stages of development and affects tissue morphogenesis. Zebrafish Smc3 is 95% identical to the human protein, is maternally contributed, and is expressed ubiquitously at all developmental stages. Antisense-mediated loss of Smc3 function leads to increased apoptosis in Smc3 expressing cells of the developing tail and notocord causing morphological malformations. The apoptosis and the ensuing phenotype can be suppressed by injection of a p53-specific MO that blocks the generation of endogenous p53 protein. Results in human cells constitutively lacking p53 or BAX, confirmed that a p53-dependent pathway mediates apoptosis in SMC3-deficient cells. A population of aneuploid cells accumulated in zebrafish embryos following Smc3-knockdown whereas in human cells the transient downregulation of SMC3 level lead to the generation of cells with amplified centrosome number. CONCLUSION: Smc3 is required for normal embryonic development. Its deficiency affects the morphogenesis of tissues with high mitotic index by triggering an apoptotic cascade involving p53 and the downstream p53 target gene bax. Cells with low SMC3 level display centrosome abnormalities that can lead to or are the consequence of dysfunctional mitosis and/or aneuploidy. Collectively the data support the view that SMC3 deficiency affects chromosomal stability leading to the activation of p53-dependent mitotic checkpoint.