Histone H2AX phosphorylation as a molecular pharmacological marker for DNA interstrand crosslink cancer chemotherapy

Biochem Pharmacol. 2008 Jul 1;76(1):19-27. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2008.03.025. Epub 2008 Apr 16.


The aims of this study were to investigate mechanisms of action involved in H2AX phosphorylation by DNA interstrand crosslinking (ICL) agents and determine whether gammaH2AX could be a suitable pharmacological marker for identifying potential ICL cellular chemosensitivity. In normal human fibroblasts, after treatment with nitrogen mustard (HN2) or cisplatin, the peak gammaH2AX response was detected 2-3 h after the peak of DNA ICLs measured using the comet assay, a validated method for detecting ICLs in vitro or in clinical samples. Detection of gammaH2AX foci by immunofluorescence microscopy could be routinely detected with 6-10 times lower concentrations of both drugs compared to detection of ICLs using the comet assay. A major pathway for repairing DNA ICLs is the initial unhooking of the ICL by the ERCC1-XPF endonuclease followed by homologous recombination. HN2 or cisplatin-induced gammaH2AX foci persisted significantly longer in both, ERCC1 or XRCC3 (homologous recombination) defective Chinese hamster cells that are highly sensitive to cell killing by ICL agents compared to wild type or ionising radiation sensitive XRCC5 cells. An advantage of using gammaH2AX immunofluorescence over the comet assay is that it appears to detect ICL chemosensitivity in both ERCC1 and HR defective cells. With HN2 and cisplatin, gammaH2AX foci also persisted in chemosensitive human ovarian cancer cells (A2780) compared to chemoresistant (A2780cisR) cells. These results show that gammaH2AX can act as a highly sensitive and general marker of DNA damage induced by HN2 or cisplatin and shows promise for predicting potential cellular chemosensitivity to ICL agents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • CHO Cells
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cisplatin / chemistry
  • Cisplatin / pharmacology*
  • Comet Assay
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / drug effects*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Phosphorylation


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Histones
  • DNA
  • Cisplatin