The cellular response to DNA damage is critical for determining whether carcinogenesis, cell death or other deleterious biological effects will ensue. Numerous cellular enzymatic mechanisms can directly repair damaged DNA, or allow tolerance of DNA lesions, and thus reduce potential harmful effects. These processes include base excision repair, nucleotide excision repair, nonhomologous end joining, homologous recombinational repair and mismatch repair, as well as translesion synthesis. Furthermore, DNA damageinducible cell cycle checkpoint systems transiently delay cell cycle progression. Presumably, this allows extra time for repair before entry of cells into critical phases of the cell cycle, an event that could be lethal if pursued with damaged DNA. When damage is excessive apoptotic cellular suicide mechanisms can be induced. Many of the survival-promoting pathways maintain genomic integrity even in the absence of exogenous agents, thus likely processing spontaneous damage caused by the byproducts of normal cellular metabolism. DNA damage can initiate cancer, and radiological as well as chemical agents used to treat cancer patients often cause DNA damage. Many genes are involved in each of the DNA damage processing mechanisms, and the encoded proteins could ultimately serve as targets for therapy, with the goal of neutralizing their ability to repair damage in cancer cells. Therefore, modulation of DNA damage responses coupled with more conventional radiotherapy and chemotherapy approaches could sensitize cancer cells to treatment. Alteration of DNA damage response genes and proteins should thus be considered an important though as of yet not fully exploited avenue to enhance cancer therapy.
DNA damage, DNA repair, cell cycle checkpoints, apoptosis, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, cancer
Center for Radiological Research, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, 630 W. 168th St., New York,NY 10032, USA.