DNA Double-Strand Breaks Induced in Human Cells by Twelve Metallic Species: Quantitative Inter-Comparisons and Influence of the ATM Protein

Biomolecules. 2021 Oct 5;11(10):1462. doi: 10.3390/biom11101462.


Despite a considerable amount of data, the molecular and cellular bases of the toxicity due to metal exposure remain unknown. Recent mechanistic models from radiobiology have emerged, pointing out that the radiation-induced nucleo-shuttling of the ATM protein (RIANS) initiates the recognition and the repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSB) and the final response to genotoxic stress. In order to document the role of ATM-dependent DSB repair and signalling after metal exposure, we applied twelve different metal species representing nine elements (Al, Cu, Zn Ni, Pd, Cd, Pb, Cr, and Fe) to human skin, mammary, and brain cells. Our findings suggest that metals may directly or indirectly induce DSB at a rate that depends on the metal properties and concentration, and tissue type. At specific metal concentration ranges, the nucleo-shuttling of ATM can be delayed which impairs DSB recognition and repair and contributes to toxicity and carcinogenicity. Interestingly, as observed after low doses of ionizing radiation, some phenomena equivalent to the biological response observed at high metal concentrations may occur at lower concentrations. A general mechanistic model of the biological response to metal exposure based on the nucleo-shuttling of ATM is proposed to describe the metal-induced stress response and to define quantitative endpoints for toxicity and carcinogenicity.

Keywords: ATM; DNA double-strand breaks; metal carcinogenesis; metal toxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aluminum / pharmacology
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins / chemistry*
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins / drug effects
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins / radiation effects
  • Cadmium / pharmacology
  • Chromium / pharmacology
  • Copper / pharmacology
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded / drug effects*
  • DNA Repair / drug effects*
  • DNA Repair / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Iron / pharmacology
  • Lead / pharmacology
  • Metals / chemistry*
  • Metals / pharmacology
  • Metals / toxicity
  • Nickel / pharmacology
  • Palladium / pharmacology
  • Zinc / pharmacology


  • Metals
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Lead
  • Palladium
  • Copper
  • Nickel
  • Aluminum
  • Iron
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Zinc