Spatiotemporal Dynamics of Early DNA Damage Response Proteins on Complex DNA Lesions

PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e57953. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057953. Epub 2013 Feb 26.


The response of cells to ionizing radiation-induced DNA double-strand breaks (DSB) is determined by the activation of multiple pathways aimed at repairing the injury and maintaining genomic integrity. Densely ionizing radiation induces complex damage consisting of different types of DNA lesions in close proximity that are difficult to repair and may promote carcinogenesis. Little is known about the dynamic behavior of repair proteins on complex lesions. In this study we use live-cell imaging for the spatio-temporal characterization of early protein interactions at damage sites of increasing complexity. Beamline microscopy was used to image living cells expressing fluorescently-tagged proteins during and immediately after charged particle irradiation to reveal protein accumulation at damaged sites in real time. Information on the mobility and binding rates of the recruited proteins was obtained from fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP). Recruitment of the DNA damage sensor protein NBS1 accelerates with increasing lesion density and saturates at very high damage levels. FRAP measurements revealed two different binding modalities of NBS1 to damage sites and a direct impact of lesion complexity on the binding. Faster recruitment with increasing lesion complexity was also observed for the mediator MDC1, but mobility was limited at very high damage densities due to nuclear-wide binding. We constructed a minimal computer model of the initial response to DSB based on known protein interactions only. By fitting all measured data using the same set of parameters, we can reproduce the experimentally characterized steps of the DNA damage response over a wide range of damage densities. The model suggests that the influence of increasing lesion density accelerating NBS1 recruitment is only dependent on the different binding modes of NBS1, directly to DSB and to the surrounding chromatin via MDC1. This elucidates an impact of damage clustering on repair without the need of invoking extra processing steps.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chromatin / genetics
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA Repair
  • Humans
  • Linear Energy Transfer
  • Models, Biological
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Transport
  • Spatio-Temporal Analysis
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism


  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Chromatin
  • MDC1 protein, human
  • NBN protein, human
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Trans-Activators

Grant support

This research was partly supported by Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung grants 02NUK001A and 02S8355; Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft grant Graduiertenkolleg 1657; Helmholtz Graduate School for Hadron and Ion Research (HGS-HIRe). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.