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Replication stress is a common feature of cancer cells. Ataxia telangiectasia-mutated (ATM) and Rad3-related (ATR) signalling, a DNA damage repair (DDR) pathway, is activated by regions of single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) that can arise during replication stress. ATR delays cell cycle progression and prevents DNA replication fork collapse, which prohibits cell death and promotes proliferation. Several ATR inhibitors have been developed in order to restrain this protective mechanism in tumours. It is known, however, that despite other effective anticancer chemotherapy treatments targeting DDR pathways, resistance occurs. This begets the need to identify combination treatments to overcome resistance and prevent tumour cell growth. We conducted a drug screen to identify potential synergistic combination treatments by screening an ATR inhibitor (VE822) together with compounds from a bioactive small molecule library. The screen identified adefovir dipivoxil, a reverse transcriptase inhibitor and nucleoside analogue, as a compound that has increased cytotoxicity in the presence of ATR, but not ATM or DNA-dependant protein kinase (DNA-PK) inhibition. Here we demonstrate that adefovir dipivoxil induces DNA replication stress, activates ATR signalling and stalls cells in S phase. This simultaneous induction of replication stress and inhibition of ATR signalling lead to a marked increase in pan-nuclear γH2AX-positive cells, ssDNA accumulation and cell death, indicative of replication catastrophe.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Cancer

Publication Date





1474 - 1484


ATR inhibitor, DNA replication stress, adefovir dipivoxil, pan-nuclear γH2AX, replication catastrophe