DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) induced during clinical radiotherapy are potent inducers of cell death. Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP)-1 is a 113-kD nuclear protein that binds to both single- and double-strand DNA breaks and is actively involved in DNA single-strand break repair and base excision repair. Recently, potent and specific chemical inhibitors of PARP activity have been developed that are effective tumor cell radiosensitizers in vitro and in vivo. Because of synthetic lethality, PARP inhibitors may be highly effective as a single agent in patients whose tumors have germline or somatic defects in DNA damage and repair genes (eg, ATM, BRCA1, BRCA2, and NBS1) or defects in genes involved in phosphatase and tensin homolog gene (PTEN) signaling. Defects in specific DNA repair pathways also appear to enhance the radiosensitizing effects of PARP inhibition. In addition to inherent genetics, tumor cells may also be preferentially sensitized to radiotherapy by diverse mechanisms, including proliferation-dependent radiosensitization, targeting of the endothelium and tumor vasculature, and increased sensitivity to PARP inhibitors within repair-deficient hypoxic cells. Because biologically active doses of PARP inhibitors caused minimal toxicity in phase I to II clinical trials, careful scheduling of these agents in combination with radiotherapy may maintain the therapeutic ratio and increase tumor radiocurability.
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