The Rad50 ABC-ATPase complex with Mre11 nuclease is essential for dsDNA break repair, telomere maintenance and ataxia telangiectasia-mutated kinase checkpoint signaling. How Rad50 affects Mre11 functions and how ABC-ATPases communicate nucleotide binding and ligand states across long distances and among protein partners are questions that have remained obscure. Here, structures of Mre11-Rad50 complexes define the Mre11 2-helix Rad50 binding domain (RBD) that forms a four-helix interface with Rad50 coiled coils adjoining the ATPase core. Newly identified effector and basic-switch helix motifs extend the ABC-ATPase signature motif to link ATP-driven Rad50 movements to coiled coils binding Mre11, implying an ~30-Å pull on the linker to the nuclease domain. Both RBD and basic-switch mutations cause clastogen sensitivity. Our new results characterize flexible ATP-dependent Mre11 regulation, defects in cancer-linked RBD mutations, conserved superfamily basic switches and motifs effecting ATP-driven conformational change, and they provide a unified comprehension of ABC-ATPase activities.