Purpose: Up to 90% of hereditary breast cancer cases are linked to germ-line mutations in one of the two copies of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Brca1 and Brca2 proteins are both involved in the cellular defence against DNA damage, although the precise function of the proteins is still not known. Some studies on a small number of samples as well as the present pilot study also suggested that BRCA1 heterozygosity may lead to impaired repair of ionizing-radiation-induced DNA double-strand breaks. The purpose of the study was to test in a larger family-matched study whether carriers of BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations have an increased sensitivity to ionizing radiation.
Materials and methods: In a blind study, the effect of different germ-line mutations in one allele of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene on the ability to repair X-ray-induced DNA breaks was investigated. Fibroblasts and lymphocytes were taken from heterozygotic individuals (BRCA1+ /- and BRCA2+ /-) with different mutations and from relatives proven to be non-carriers of the BRCA mutations. Rejoining of DNA breaks was analysed by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (for fibroblasts) or the comet assay (for lymphocytes).
Results: Significant interindividual differences were found in the capacities of the fibroblasts and lymphocytes to rejoin DNA breaks induced by X-radiation. However, these differences were not related to heterozygosity in BRCA1 or BRCA2.
Conclusions: Cells from carriers of mutations in one allele of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have no gross defects in their ability to rejoin radiation-induced DNA breaks. Hence, these carriers may not be at risk of developing excess normal tissue reactions after radiotherapy consistent with data from recent clinical studies.