The origins of DNA breaks: a consequence of DNA damage, DNA repair, or apoptosis?

Cancer Invest. 1992;10(3):229-40. doi: 10.3109/07357909209032765.


DNA breaks can arise from many sources after incubation of cells with toxic agents. Very few agents break DNA directly, rather most breaks occur as a result of metabolic participation by the cell, such as during attempts to repair the damage. It is now realized that many DNA breaks arise as a consequence of steps in the pathway of cell death. Upon reanalyzing the methodology commonly used to detect DNA breaks, it is evident that many studies would not have observed DNA breaks associated with cell death. Frequently experimental conditions have been used that are extremely toxic to cells with the justification that the cells were still viable as measured by their ability to exclude dyes such as trypan blue. However, the DNA digestion associated with cell death by apoptosis occurs prior to changes in membrane integrity. Because the possibility of endogenous endonuclease activity was not realized, many studies may have inaccurately assumed that DNA breaks arose during, for example, inhibition of DNA repair or as intermediates in recombination. In light of the new understanding of apoptosis and the formation of DNA breaks as an early event in cell death, it is important to both reevaluate past conclusions and to ensure that future studies fully consider the breaks derived from the cytotoxicity of every agent under investigation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Death*
  • DNA / drug effects
  • DNA / radiation effects
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA Repair*
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I / metabolism
  • Deoxyribonucleases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase Inhibitors
  • Recombination, Genetic


  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase Inhibitors
  • DNA
  • Deoxyribonucleases
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I