DNA damage-induced cell death by apoptosis

Trends Mol Med. 2006 Sep;12(9):440-50. doi: 10.1016/j.molmed.2006.07.007. Epub 2006 Aug 8.


Following the induction of DNA damage, a prominent route of cell inactivation is apoptosis. During the last ten years, specific DNA lesions that trigger apoptosis have been identified. These include O6-methylguanine, base N-alkylations, bulky DNA adducts, DNA cross-links and DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). Repair of these lesions are important in preventing apoptosis. An exception is O6-methylguanine-thymine lesions, which require mismatch repair for triggering apoptosis. Apoptosis induced by many chemical genotoxins is the consequence of blockage of DNA replication, which leads to collapse of replication forks and DSB formation. These DSBs are thought to be crucial downstream apoptosis-triggering lesions. DSBs are detected by ATM (ataxia telangiectasia mutated) and ATR (ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3 related) proteins, which signal downstream to CHK1, CHK2 (checkpoint kinases) and p53. p53 induces transcriptional activation of pro-apoptotic factors such as FAS, PUMA and BAX. Many tumors harbor mutations in p53. There are p53 backup systems that involve CHK1 and/or CHK2-driven E2F1 activation and p73 upregulation, which in turn transcribes BAX, PUMA and NOXA. Another trigger of apoptosis upon DNA damage is the inhibition of RNA synthesis, which leads to a decline in the level of critical gene products such as MKP1 (mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphatase). This causes sustained activation of JNK (Jun kinase) and, finally, AP-1, which stimulates death-receptor activation. DNA damage-triggered signaling and execution of apoptosis is cell-type- and genotoxin-specific depending on the p53 (p63 and p73) status, death-receptor responsiveness, MAP-kinase activation and, most importantly, DNA repair capacity. Because most clinical anti-cancer drugs target DNA, increasing knowledge on DNA damage-triggered signaling leading to cell death is expected to provide new strategies for therapeutic interventions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Caspase 2
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • DNA / drug effects
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA Repair
  • Humans
  • Mutagens / toxicity
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism


  • Mutagens
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • DNA
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Caspase 2
  • Caspases