We asked whether the constitutive level of DNA strand breaks (SBs) in four human squamous carcinoma cell lines is associated with their radiosensitivity, measured by the clonogenic assay. Because impairment in DNA replication and the action of endogenous deoxyribonucleases are two major sources of DNA strand breaks under normal cell metabolism, we also analyzed DNA polymerase and DNA ligase activities as well as the functional status of Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) and nucleolytic degradation of genomic DNA. We showed that the two relatively radioresistant cell lines, UM-SCC-1 and UT-SCC-5, had a statistically significant lower constitutive level of DNA SBs, as measured by DNA precipitation technique, compared with the two relatively radiosensitive cell lines, UM-SCC-14A and UT-SCC-9. We found that cell lines with a higher level of broken DNA tended to have a higher constitutive level of DNA polymerase alpha activity, measured by incorporation of [(3)H]dTTP in DNase I-activated DNA. UM-SCC-1, UT-SCC-5, and UM-SCC-14A did not show any difference in DNA ligase activity when a nicked oligonucleotide was used as substrate. The most radiosensitive cell line, UT-SCC-9, had a significantly lower ligation efficiency compared to the other three cell lines. The functional status of the PARP was the same in the four cell lines. Although none of the four cell lines showed a characteristic apoptotic or necrotic degradation of genomic DNA, when tested with the "plasmid rejoining assay," a significant degradation of the plasmid DNA in UT-SCC-9 was detected. We conclude that the high fraction of DNA SBs for UT-SCC-9, the most radiosensitive cell line, is most likely a consequence of low ligation efficiency combined with a relatively high DNA polymerase alpha activity and the nuclease degradation of DNA.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.