Little is known about mammalian preRC stoichiometry, the number of preRCs on chromosomes, and how this relates to replicon size and usage. We show here that, on average, each 100-kb of the mammalian genome contains a preRC composed of approximately one ORC hexamer, 4–5 MCM hexamers, and 2 Cdc6. Relative to these subunits, ∼0.35 total molecules of the pre-Initiation Complex factor Cdc45 are present. Thus, based on ORC availability, somatic cells contain ∼70,000 preRCs of this average total stoichiometry, although subunits may not be juxtaposed with each other. Except for ORC, the chromatin-bound complement of preRC subunits is even lower. Cdc45 is present at very low levels relative to the preRC subunits, but is highly stable, and the same limited number of stable Cdc45 molecules are present from the beginning of S-phase to its completion. Efforts to artificially increase Cdc45 levels through ectopic expression block cell growth. However, microinjection of excess purified Cdc45 into S-phase nuclei activates additional replication foci by three-fold, indicating that Cdc45 functions to activate dormant preRCs and is rate-limiting for somatic replicon usage. Paradoxically, although Cdc45 colocalizes in vivo with some MCM sites and is rate-limiting for DNA replication to occur, neither Cdc45 nor MCMs colocalize with active replication sites. Embryonic metazoan chromatin consists of small replicons that are used efficiently via an excess of preRC subunits. In contrast, somatic mammalian cells contain a low density of preRCs, each containing only a few MCMs that compete for limiting amounts of Cdc45. This provides a molecular explanation why, relative to embryonic replicon dynamics, somatic replicons are, on average, larger and origin efficiency tends to be lower. The stable, continuous, and rate-limiting nature of Cdc45 suggests that Cdc45 contributes to the staggering of replicon usage throughout S-phase, and that replicon activation requires reutilization of existing Cdc45 during S-phase
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