The stress-inducible transcription complex NF-κB induces the transcription of genes that regulate proliferation and apoptosis. Constitutively activated NF-κB is common in breast cancers, and contributes to malignant progression and therapeutic resistance. Ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) is a key regulator of the cellular response to DNA double strand breaks (DSBs), and recent reports have demonstrated that ATM is required for the activation of NF-κB following DNA damage. We investigated the role of ATM in the NF-κB signalling cascade induced by ionising radiation (IR) in breast cancer cell lines using KU55933, a novel and specific inhibitor of ATM. KU55933 suppressed IR-induced IκBα degradation, p50/p65 nuclear translocation and binding to kB consensus sequences. KU55933 also suppressed transcription of an NF-κB dependent reporter gene and inhibited IR-induced DSB repair as assessed by the neutral Comet assay. KU55933 sensitised cells to IR, with a concurrent increase in caspase 3 activity. Importantly, KU55933 sensitised IKKβ(+/+) and p65(+/+), but not IKKβ(-/-) or p65(-/-), mouse embryonic fibroblasts to IR, despite the equivalent inhibitory effects of KU55933 on DSB repair in both the proficient and the deficient cell lines. P65 siRNA had no effect on DSB repair in either breast cancer cell line. When combined with KU55933, DSB repair was inhibited to the same extent as KU55933 alone in both breast cancer cell lines. P65 siRNA alone sensitised both cell lines to IR. A combination of p65 siRNA and KU55933 resulted in no further sensitisation compared to either one alone. Taken together these data support the hypothesis that KU55933-mediated radio-sensitisation is solely a consequence of its inhibition of NF-κB activation. We conclude that radiotherapy deploying ATM inhibitors may be particularly advantageous in tumours where NF-κB is constitutively activated.
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