Mre11, Rad50, and Nbs1form a tight complex which is homogeneously distributed throughout the nuclei of mammalian cells. However, after irradiation, the Mre11/Rad50/Nbs1 (M/R/N) complex rapidly migrates to sites of double strand breaks (DSBs), forming foci which remain until DSB repair is complete. Mre11 and Rad50 play direct roles in DSB repair, while Nbs1 appears to be involved in damage signaling. Hyperthermia sensitizes mammalian cells to ionizing radiation. Radiosensitization by heat shock is believed to be mediated by an inhibition of DSB repair. While the mechanism of inhibition of repair by heat shock remains to be elucidated, recent reports suggest that the M/R/N complex may be a target for inhibition of DSB repair and radiosensitization by heat. We now demonstrate that when human U-1 melanoma cells are heated at 42.5 or 45.5 degrees C, Mre11, Rad50, and Nbs1 are rapidly translocated from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. Interestingly, when cells were exposed to ionizing radiation (12 Gy of X-rays) prior to heat treatment, the extent and kinetics of translocation were increased when nuclear and cytoplasmic fractions of protein were analyzed immediately after treatment. The kinetics of the translocation and subsequent relocalization back into the nucleus when cells were incubated at 37 degrees C from 30 min to 7 h following treatment were different for each protein, which suggests that the proteins redistribute independently. However, a significant fraction of the translocated proteins exist as a triple complex in the cytoplasm. Treatment with leptomycin B (LMB) inhibits the translocation of Mre11, Rad50, and Nbs1 to the cytoplasm, leading us to speculate that the relocalization of the proteins to the cytoplasm occurs via CRM1-mediated nuclear export. In addition, while Nbs1 is rapidly phosphorylated in the nuclei of irradiated cells and is critical for a normal DNA damage response, we have found that Nbs1 is rapidly phosphorylated in the cytoplasm, but not in the nucleus, of heated irradiated cells. The phosphorylation of cytoplasmic Nbs1, which cannot be inhibited by wortmannin, appears to be a unique post-translational modification in heated, irradiated cells, and coupled with our novel observations that Mre11, Rad50, and Nbs1 translocate to the cytoplasm, lend further support for a role of the M/R/N complex in thermal radiosensitization and inhibition of DSB repair.