Constitutive histone H2AX phosphorylation and ATM activation, the reporters of DNA damage by endogenous oxidants

Cell Cycle. 2006 Sep;5(17):1940-5. doi: 10.4161/cc.5.17.3191. Epub 2006 Sep 1.


DNA in live cells undergoes continuous oxidative damage caused by metabolically generated endogenous as well as external oxidants and oxidant-inducers. The cumulative oxidative DNA damage is considered the key factor in aging and senescence while the effectiveness of anti-aging agents is often assessed by their ability to reduce such damage. Oxidative DNA damage also preconditions cells to neoplastic transformation. Sensitive reporters of DNA damage, particularly the induction of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), are activation of ATM, through its phosphorylation on Ser 1981, and phosphorylation of histone H2AX on Ser 139; the phosphorylated form of H2AX has been named gammaH2AX. We review the observations that constitutive ATM activation (CAA) and H2AX phosphorylation (CHP) take place in normal cells as well in the cells of tumor lines untreated by exogenous genotoxic agents. We postulate that CAA and CHP, which have been measured by multiparameter cytometry in relation to the cell cycle phase, are triggered by oxidative DNA damage. This review also presents the findings on differences in CAA and CHP in various cell lines as well as on the effects of several agents and growth conditions that modulate the extent of these histone and ATM modifications. Specifically, described are effects of the reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavenger N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC), and the glutathione synthetase inhibitor buthionine sulfoximine (BSO) as well as suppression of cell metabolism by growth at higher cell density or in the presence of the glucose antimetabolite 2-deoxy-D-glucose. Collectively, the reviewed data indicate that multiparameter cytometric measurement of the level of CHP and/or CAA allows one to estimate the extent of ongoing oxidative DNA damage and to measure the DNA protective-effects of antioxidants or agents that reduce or amplify generation of endogenous ROS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism*
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Free Radical Scavengers / pharmacology
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Oxidants / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / metabolism*


  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Histones
  • Oxidants
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • ATM protein, human
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Acetylcysteine