The non-homologous end-joining pathway is not involved in the radiosensitization of mammalian cells by heat shock

Joseph R. Dynlacht, M. Eric Bittner, Jody A. Bethel, Brian D. Beck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Scopus citations


A synergistic increase in cell killing is observed when a heat-shock is administered prior to, during, or immediately after exposure to ionizing radiation (IR). This phenomenon, known as heat-radiosensitization, is believed to be mediated by inhibition of repair of radiation-induced double strand breaks (DSB) when cells are exposed to temperatures above 42°C. However, the mechanism by which heat inhibits DSB repair is unclear. The bulk of radiation-induced DSBs are repaired via the non-homologous end-joining pathway (NHEJ). Several reports indicate that the Ku70 and Ku80 subunits of the mammalian DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK), a complex involved in NHEJ, appear to be susceptible to a heat-induced loss of DNA-binding activity, with Ku80 representing the heat-sensitive component. Since the heat-induced loss and subsequent recovery of Ku-DNA binding activity correlates well with heat-radiosensitization, a role for Ku80 and NHEJ in heat-radiosensitization has been proposed. However, direct evidence implicating Ku80 (and NHEJ) in heat-radiosensitization has been indeterminate. In this study, we demonstrate that equitoxic heat treatments at 42.5-45.5°C induce a similar amount of aggregation of Ku80 in human U-1 melanoma cells. These data suggest that the time-temperature-dependent relationship between heat lethality and Ku80 aggregation are similar. However, the aggregation/disaggregation of Ku80 and its transient or permanent inactivation is unrelated to heat-radiosensitization. When survival curves were obtained for irradiated or irradiated and heated Ku80-/- mouse embryo fibroblasts (MEFs) and compared with survival curves obtained for wild-type (WT) cells, we found that heat-radiosensitization was not reduced in the Ku80-/- cells, but actually increased. Thus, our findings indicate that Ku80 is not essential for heat-radiosensitization. Non-involvement of Ku-dependent or Ku-independent NHEJ pathways in heat-radiosensitization was confirmed by comparing clonogenic survival between DNA ligase IV-defective and WT human cells. Our data therefore implicate homologous recombination in inhibition of repair of radiation-induced DSBs and as a target for heat-radiosensitization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)557-564
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of cellular physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology

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