The Warsaw breakage syndrome-related protein DDX11 is required for ribosomal RNA synthesis and embryonic development

Xinliang Sun, Hongbo Chen, Zaian Deng, Bo Hu, Hui Luo, Xiaobin Zeng, Liqiao Han, Guoping Cai, Lan Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


DDX11 was recently identified as a cause of Warsaw breakage syndrome (WABS). However, the functional mechanism of DDX11 and the contribution of clinically described mutations to the pathogenesis of WABS are elusive. Here, we show that DDX11 is a novel nucleolar protein that preferentially binds to hypomethylated active ribosomal DNA (rDNA) gene loci, where it interacts with upstream binding factor (UBF) and the RNA polymerase I (Pol I). DDX11 knockdown changed the epigenetic state of rDNA loci from s° euchromatic structures to more heterochromatic structures, reduced the activity of UBF, decreased the recruitment of UBF and ° RPA194 (a subunit of Pol I) to rDNA promoter, suppressed rRNA transcription and thereby inhibited growth and proliferation of HeLa cells. Importantly, two indentified WABS-derived mutants, R263Q and K897del, and a Fe-S deletion construct demonstrated significantly reduced binding abilities to rDNA promoters and lowered DNA-dependent ATPase activities compared with wild-type DDX11. Knockdown of the zebrafish ortholog of human DDX11 by morpholinos resulted in growth retardation and vertebral and craniofacial malformations in zebrafish, concomitant with the changes in histone epigenetic modifications at rDNA loci, the reduction of Pol I recruitment to the rDNA promoter and a significant decrease in nascent pre-RNA levels. These growth disruptions in zebrafish in response to DDX11 reduction showed similarities to the clinically described developmental abnormalities found in WABS patients for the first time in any vertebrate. Thus, our results indicate that DDX11 functions as a positive regulator of rRNA transcription and provides a novel insight into the pathogenesis of WABS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4901-4915
Number of pages15
JournalHuman Molecular Genetics
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


Dive into the research topics of 'The Warsaw breakage syndrome-related protein DDX11 is required for ribosomal RNA synthesis and embryonic development'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this