Homologous recombination as a potential target for caffeine radiosensitization in mammalian cells: reduced caffeine radiosensitization in XRCC2 and XRCC3 mutants

Oncogene. 2000 Nov 23;19(50):5788-800. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1203953.


The radiosensitizing effect of caffeine has been associated with the disruption of multiple DNA damage-responsive cell cycle checkpoints, but several lines of evidence also implicate inhibition of DNA repair. The role of DNA repair inhibition in caffeine radiosensitization remains uncharacterized, and it is unknown which repair process, or lesion, is affected. We show that a radiosensitive cell line, mutant for the RAD51 homolog XRCC2 and defective in homologous recombination repair (HRR), displays significantly diminished caffeine radiosensitization that can be restored by expression of XRCC2. Despite the reduced radiosensitization, caffeine effectively abrogates checkpoints in S and G2 phases in XRCC2 mutant cells indicating that checkpoint abrogation is not sufficient for radiosensitization. Another radiosensitive line, mutant for XRCC3 and defective in HRR, similarly shows reduced caffeine radiosensitization. On the other hand, a radiosensitive mutant (irs-20) of DNA-PKcs with a defect in non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) is radiosensitized by caffeine to an extent comparable to wild-type cells. In addition, rejoining of radiation-induced DNA DSBs, that mainly reflects NHEJ, remains unaffected by caffeine in XRCC2 and XRCC3 mutants, or their wild-type counterparts. These observations suggest that caffeine targets steps in HRR but not in NHEJ and that abrogation of checkpoint response is not sufficient to explain radiosensitization. Indeed, immortalized fibroblasts from AT patients show caffeine radiosensitization despite the checkpoint defects associated with ATM mutation. We propose that caffeine radiosensitization is mediated by inhibition of stages in DNA DSB repair requiring HRR and that checkpoint disruption contributes by allowing these DSBs to transit into irreparable states. Thus, checkpoints may contribute to genomic stability by promoting error-free HRR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia / genetics
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia / pathology
  • CHO Cells / cytology
  • CHO Cells / drug effects
  • CHO Cells / radiation effects
  • Caffeine / pharmacology*
  • Cricetinae
  • DNA / radiation effects
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA Repair / drug effects*
  • DNA Repair / genetics
  • DNA Repair / radiation effects
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / radiation effects
  • G1 Phase / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Radiation Tolerance / drug effects
  • Radiation Tolerance / genetics*
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents / pharmacology*
  • Recombination, Genetic / drug effects*
  • Recombination, Genetic / genetics
  • S Phase / drug effects
  • Schizosaccharomyces / drug effects
  • Schizosaccharomyces / radiation effects


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents
  • X-ray repair cross complementing protein 3
  • XRCC2 protein, human
  • Caffeine
  • DNA