Deficiency in homologous recombination renders Mammalian cells more sensitive to proton versus photon irradiation

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2014 Jan 1;88(1):175-81. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2013.09.041. Epub 2013 Nov 13.


Purpose: To investigate the impact of the 2 major DNA repair machineries on cellular survival in response to irradiation with the 2 types of ionizing radiation.

Methods and materials: The DNA repair and cell survival endpoints in wild-type, homologous recombination (HR)-deficient, and nonhomologous end-joining-deficient cells were analyzed after irradiation with clinically relevant, low-linear energy transfer (LET) protons and 200-keV photons.

Results: All cell lines were more sensitive to proton irradiation compared with photon irradiation, despite no differences in the induction of DNA breaks. Interestingly, HR-deficient cells and wild-type cells with small interfering RNA-down-regulated Rad51 were markedly hypersensitive to proton irradiation, resulting in an increased relative biological effectiveness in comparison with the relative biological effectiveness determined in wild-type cells. In contrast, lack of nonhomologous end-joining did not result in hypersensitivity toward proton irradiation. Repair kinetics of DNA damage in wild-type cells were equal after both types of irradiation, although proton irradiation resulted in more lethal chromosomal aberrations. Finally, repair kinetics in HR-deficient cells were significantly delayed after proton irradiation, with elevated amounts of residual γH2AX foci after irradiation.

Conclusion: Our data indicate a differential quality of DNA damage by proton versus photon irradiation, with a specific requirement for homologous recombination for DNA repair and enhanced cell survival. This has potential relevance for clinical stratification of patients carrying mutations in the DNA damage response pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CHO Cells
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Cell Survival / radiation effects*
  • Chromosome Aberrations
  • Cricetulus
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded*
  • DNA Repair / physiology*
  • DNA Repair / radiation effects
  • Homologous Recombination / physiology*
  • Homologous Recombination / radiation effects
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Photons*
  • Protons*
  • Radiation Tolerance / genetics*
  • Relative Biological Effectiveness
  • Transfection / methods


  • Protons