Histone H2AX is a critical factor for cellular protection against DNA alkylating agents

Oncogene. 2008 Sep 25;27(43):5662-71. doi: 10.1038/onc.2008.187. Epub 2008 Jun 9.


Histone H2A variant H2AX is a dose-dependent suppressor of oncogenic chromosome translocations. H2AX participates in DNA double-strand break repair, but its role in other DNA repair pathways is not known. In this study, role of H2AX in cellular response to alkylation DNA damage was investigated. Cellular sensitivity to two monofunctional alkylating agents (methyl methane sulfonate and N-methyl-N'-nitro-N-nitrosoguanidine (MNNG)) was dependent on H2AX dosage, and H2AX null cells were more sensitive than heterozygous cells. In contrast to wild-type cells, H2AX-deficient cells displayed extensive apoptotic death due to a lack of cell-cycle arrest at G(2)/M phase. Lack of G(2)/M checkpoint in H2AX null cells correlated well with increased mitotic irregularities involving anaphase bridges and gross chromosomal instability. Observation of elevated poly(ADP) ribose polymerase 1 (PARP-1) cleavage suggests that MNNG-induced apoptosis occurs by PARP-1-dependent manner in H2AX-deficient cells. Consistent with this, increased activities of PARP and poly(ADP) ribose (PAR) polymer synthesis were detected in both H2AX heterozygous and null cells. Further, we demonstrate that the increased PAR synthesis and apoptotic death induced by MNNG in H2AX-deficient cells are due to impaired activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway. Collectively, our novel study demonstrates that H2AX, similar to PARP-1, confers cellular protection against alkylation-induced DNA damage. Therefore, targeting either PARP-1 or histone H2AX may provide an effective way of maximizing the chemotherapeutic value of alkylating agents for cancer treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alkylating Agents / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Cytoprotection
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA Repair / drug effects
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / physiology
  • G2 Phase / drug effects
  • Histones / physiology*
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / drug effects
  • Methylnitronitrosoguanidine / toxicity*
  • Mice
  • Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase-1
  • Poly Adenosine Diphosphate Ribose / biosynthesis
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / physiology


  • Alkylating Agents
  • H2AX protein, mouse
  • Histones
  • Methylnitronitrosoguanidine
  • Poly Adenosine Diphosphate Ribose
  • PARP1 protein, human
  • Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase-1
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases