Exposure to ionizing radiation (IR) results in the formation of DNA double strand breaks, resulting in the activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-like kinases ATM, ATR and DNK-PKcs. A physiologically important downstream target is the minor histone H2A variant, H2AX, which is rapidly phosphorylated on Ser 139 of the carboxyl tail after IR. Recent work suggests that phosphorylated H2AX (γ-H2AX) plays an important role in the recruitment and/or retention of DNA repair and checkpoint proteins such as BRCA1, MRE11/RAD50/NBS1 complex, MDC1 and 53BP1. H2AX-/- mouse embryonic fibroblasts are radiation sensitive and demonstrate deficits in repairing DNA damage compared to their wildtype counterparts. Cells treated with peptide inhibitors of γ-H2AX demonstrate increased radiosensitivity following radiation compared with untreated irradiated cells. Analysis of the kinetics of γ-H2AX clearance after IR or other DNA damaging agents reveals a correlation between increased γ-H2AX persistence and unrepaired DNA damage and cell death. These data highlight the potential of post-translational modifications of chromatin as a therapeutic target for enhancing the efficacy of radiotherapy. Therapies that either block γ-H2AX foci formation by inhibiting upstream kinase activity or that directly inhibit H2AX function may interfere with DNA damage repair processes and warrant further investigation as potential radiosensitizing agents. Agents that increase persistence of γ-H2AX after IR are likely to increase unrepaired DNA damage.
Keywords: H2AX, radiation, radiosensitizers, DNA damage, cancer
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