Ionizing radiation induces long-term senescence in endothelial cells through mitochondrial respiratory complex II dysfunction and superoxide generation

Free Radic Biol Med. 2017 Jul;108:750-759. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2017.04.019. Epub 2017 Apr 19.


Ionizing radiation causes oxidative stress, leading to acute and late cellular responses. We previously demonstrated that irradiation of non-proliferating endothelial cells, as observed in normal tissues, induces early apoptosis, which can be inhibited by pretreatment with Sphingosine-1-Phosphate. We now propose to better characterize the long-term radiation response of endothelial cells by studying the molecular pathways associated with senescence and its link with acute apoptosis. First, senescence was validated in irradiated quiescent microvascular HMVEC-L in a dose- and time-dependent manner by SA β-galactosidase staining, p16Ink4a and p21Waf1 expression, pro-inflammatory IL-8 secretion and DNA damage response activation. This premature aging was induced independently of Sphingosine 1-Phosphate treatment, supporting its non-connection with acute IR-induced apoptosis. Then, senescence under these conditions showed persistent activation of p53 pathway and mitochondrial dysfunctions, characterized by O2·- generation, inhibition of respiratory complex II activity and over-expression of SOD2 and GPX1 detoxification enzymes. Senescence was significantly inhibited by treatment with pifithrin-α, a p53 inhibitor, or by MnTBAP, a superoxide dismutase mimetic, validating those molecular actors in IR-induced endothelial cell aging. However, MnTBAP, but not pifithrin-α, was able to limit superoxide generation and to rescue the respiratory complex II activity. Furthermore, MnTBAP was not modulating p53 up-regulation, suggesting that IR-induced senescence in quiescent endothelial cells is provided by at least 2 different pathways dependent of the mitochondrial oxidative stress response and the p53 activation. Further characterization of the actors involved in the respiratory complex II dysfunction will open new pharmacological strategies to modulate late radiation toxicity.

Keywords: Endothelial cell; Ionizing radiation; Mitochondrial oxidative stress; Senescence.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Line
  • Cellular Senescence
  • Electron Transport Complex II / metabolism*
  • Endothelial Cells / physiology*
  • Endothelial Cells / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-8 / metabolism
  • Lysophospholipids / metabolism
  • Microvessels / pathology*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Radiation, Ionizing
  • Sphingosine / analogs & derivatives
  • Sphingosine / metabolism
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism
  • Superoxides / metabolism*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • Interleukin-8
  • Lysophospholipids
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • respiratory complex II
  • Superoxides
  • sphingosine 1-phosphate
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • Electron Transport Complex II
  • Sphingosine