Strong Shift to ATR-Dependent Regulation of the G2-Checkpoint after Exposure to High-LET Radiation

The utilization of high linear-energy-transfer (LET) ionizing radiation (IR) modalities is rapidly growing worldwide, causing excitement but also raising concerns, because our understanding of their biological effects is incomplete. Charged particles such as protons and heavy ions have increasing potential in cancer therapy, due to their advantageous physical properties over X-rays (photons), but are also present in the space environment, adding to the health risks of space missions. Therapy improvements and the protection of humans during space travel will benefit from a better understanding of the mechanisms underpinning the biological effects of high-LET IR. There is evidence that high-LET IR induces DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) of increasing complexity, causing enhanced cell killing, owing, at least partly, to the frequent engagement of a low-fidelity DSB-repair pathway: alternative end-joining (alt-EJ), which is known to frequently induce severe structural chromosomal abnormalities (SCAs). Here, we evaluate the radiosensitivity of A549 lung adenocarcinoma cells to X-rays, α-particles and 56Fe ions, as well as of HCT116 colorectal cancer cells to X-rays and α-particles. We observe the expected increase in cell killing following high-LET irradiation that correlates with the increased formation of SCAs as detected by mFISH. Furthermore, we report that cells exposed to low doses of α-particles and 56Fe ions show an enhanced G2-checkpoint response which is mainly regulated by ATR, rather than the coordinated ATM/ATR-dependent regulation observed after exposure to low doses of X-rays. These observations advance our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning high-LET IR effects, and suggest the potential utility for ATR inhibitors in high-LET radiation therapy.


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