Purpose: To examine how hypoxia influences ionizing irradiation-induced apoptosis in cultured mammalian cells and how a hypoxic cell radiosensitizer sensitizes apoptosis under hypoxic conditions.
Materials and methods: Two cell lines derived from human lymphocytes, HL60 and MOLT-4, were exposed to 15 Gy X-rays under aerobic and hypoxic conditions. Etanidazole was used as a hypoxic cell radiosensitizer. The apoptotic morphological changes of nuclei and the induction of ladder-like DNA fragmentation were assessed by fluorescence microscopy and agarose gel electrophoresis, respectively.
Results: In HL60 cells, apototic cell death and the activation of caspases 8, 9 and 3 were less induced under the hypoxic conditions than under the aerobic ones. Treatment of hypoxic cells with etanidazole enhanced X-ray-induced apoptosis and caspase activation. However, in MOLT-4 cells, neither hypoxia nor etanidazole influenced X-ray-induced apoptosis and caspase activation. In both cell lines, the frequency of X-ray-induced DNA double-strand breaks (DSB) under hypoxia was significantly smaller than that in aerobic conditions. Treatment of hypoxic cells with etanidazole enhanced them.
Conclusion: These results suggested that X-ray-induced apoptosis in HL60 cells was initiated by DNA DSB and the treatment of hypoxic cells with etanidazole sensitized them through the enhancement of DSB induction, whereas X-ray-induced apoptosis in MOLT-4 cells occurred through damage other than to DNA.