In response to chromatin bridges, the abscission checkpoint delays completion of cytokinesis to prevent chromosome breakage or tetraploidization. Here, we show that spontaneous or replication stress-induced chromatin bridges exhibit “knots” of catenated and overtwisted DNA next to the midbody. Topoisomerase IIα (Top2α) forms abortive Top2–DNA cleavage complexes (Top2ccs) on DNA knots; furthermore, impaired Top2α–DNA cleavage activity correlates with chromatin bridge breakage in cytokinesis. Proteasomal degradation of Top2ccs is required for Rad17 localization to Top2-generated double-strand DNA ends on DNA knots; in turn, Rad17 promotes local recruitment of the MRN complex and downstream ATM-Chk2-INCENP signaling to delay abscission and prevent chromatin breakage. In contrast, dicentric chromosomes that do not exhibit knotted DNA fail to activate the abscission checkpoint in human cells. These findings are the first to describe a mechanism by which the abscission checkpoint detects chromatin bridges, through generation of abortive Top2ccs on DNA knots, to preserve genome integrity.

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