Implications of alternative routes to APC/C inhibition by the mitotic checkpoint complex

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The mitotic checkpoint (also called spindle assembly checkpoint) is a signaling pathway that ensures faithful chromosome segregation. Mitotic checkpoint proteins inhibit the anaphase-promoting complex (APC/C) and its activator Cdc20 to prevent precocious anaphase. Checkpoint signaling leads to a complex of APC/C, Cdc20, and checkpoint proteins, in which the APC/C is inactive. In principle, this final product of the mitotic checkpoint can be obtained via different pathways, whose relevance still needs to be fully ascertained experimentally. Here, we use mathematical models to compare the implications on checkpoint response of the possible pathways leading to APC/C inhibition. We identify a previously unrecognized funneling effect for Cdc20, which favors Cdc20 incorporation into the inhibitory complex and therefore promotes checkpoint activity. Furthermore, we find that the presence or absence of one specific assembly reaction determines whether the checkpoint remains functional at elevated levels of Cdc20, which can occur in cancer cells. Our results reveal the inhibitory logics behind checkpoint activity, predict checkpoint efficiency in perturbed situations, and could inform molecular strategies to treat malignancies that exhibit Cdc20 overexpression.