Purpose: Patients with ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) show greatly increased radiation sensitivity and cancer predisposition. Family studies imply that the otherwise clinically silent heterozygotes of this autosomal recessive disease run a 3.5 to 3.8 higher risk of developing cancer. In vitro studies suggest moderately increased cellular radiation sensitivity of A-T carriers. They may also show elevated clinical radiosensitivity. We retrospectively examined patients who presented with severe adverse reactions during or after standard radiation treatment for mutations in the gene responsible for A-T, ATM, considering a potential means of future identification of radiosensitive individuals prospectively to adjust dosage schedules.
Material and methods: We selected 20 cancer patients (breast, 11; rectum, 2; ENT, 2; bladder, 1; prostate, 1; anus, 1; astrocytoma, 1; Hodgkins lymphoma, 1) with Grade 3 to 4 (RTOG) acute and/or late tissue radiation side effects by reaction severity. DNA from the peripheral blood of patients was isolated. All 66 exons and adjacent intron regions of the ATM gene were PCR-amplified and examined for mutations by a combination of agarose gel electrophoresis, single-stranded conformational polymorphism (SSCP) analysis, and exon-scanning direct sequencing.
Results: Only 2 of the patients revealed altogether four heteroallelic sequence variants. The latter included two single-base deletions in different introns, a single-base change causing an amino acid substitution in an exon, and a large insertion in another intron. Both the single-base deletions and the single-base change represent known polymorphisms. The large insertion was an Alu repeat, shown not to give rise to altered gene product.
Conclusions: Despite high technical efforts, no unequivocal ATM mutation was detected. Nevertheless, extension of similar studies to larger and differently composed cohorts of patients suffering severe adverse effects of radiotherapy, and application of new technologies for mutation detection may be worthwhile to assess the definite prevalence of significant ATM mutations within the group of radiotherapy patients with adverse reactions. To date, it must be recognized that our present results do not suggest that heterozygous ATM mutations are involved in clinically observed radiosensitivity but, rather, invoke different genetic predisposition or so far unknown exogenous factors.