Background and purpose: Ionizing radiation is known to activate certain signal transduction pathways, the regulation of which could involve post-transcriptional as well as transcriptional mechanisms. One of the most important post-transcriptional pathways in eukaryotic cells is the ATP- and ubiquitin-dependent degradation of proteins by the 26s proteasome. This process controls initiation of many cellular stress responses, as well as inflammatory responses under control of the transcription factor NF-kappaB. The literature on the relationship between radiation and inflammation seems somewhat paradoxical. At high doses, radiation is generally pro-inflammatory. On the other hand, low dose radiation has a long history of use in the treatment of inflammatory disease. This suggests the involvement of multiple mechanisms that may operate differentially at different dose levels.
Materials and methods: In this paper, the ability of different doses of ionizing radiation to directly affect 26s proteasome activity was tested in ECV 304 cells. Proteasome activity, IkappaBalpha protein levels, and NF-kappaB activation were monitored.
Results: Inhibition of chymotrypsin-like 20s and 26s proteasome activity was observed immediately after low- and high-dose irradiation either of cells or purified proteasomes. The inhibitory effect was independent of the availability of the known endogenous proteasome inhibitor heat shock protein 90 (hsp90). Levels of IkappaBalpha, a physiological 26s proteasome substrate, were increased only at low doses (0.25 Gy) and unaltered at higher doses whereas only the highest doses (8 and 20 Gy) activated NF-kappaB.
Conclusions: We conclude that the proteasome is a direct target of ionizing radiation and suggest that inhibition of proteasome function provides a molecular framework within which low dose anti-inflammatory effects of radiation, and radiation-induced molecular responses in general, should be considered.