Previous work from our laboratory suggested that neuronal chromatin structure may be altered immediately after exposure to ionizing radiation. In the present study, whole brains of 4-month-old male Fisher 344 rats were irradiated with a dose of 25 Gy. The kinetics of restoring the chromatin structure to its unirradiated state was investigated in rat cerebellar neurons using three different approaches: (1) measurement of changes in the DNA superhelical structure by the fluorescent halo assay, (2) measurement of changes in chromatin accessibility to digestion by micrococcal nuclease, and (3) measurement of changes in the accessibility of the nuclear-matrix-associated DNA to digestion by DNase I. Immediately after irradiation, the topological constraints on the DNA loops were altered, the chromatin was more accessible to m. nuclease digestion, and the DNA associated with the nuclear matrix was more resistant to digestion by DNase I. Return of the chromatin structure to its unirradiated state as measured by each of the three methods followed biphasic kinetics with the fast phase having a half-time of several minutes and the slow phase having a half-time of several hours. The kinetics are similar to that previously reported for repair of radiation-induced DNA damage in mammalian cells. Although the independent assays used in this study seemed to follow the same kinetics, their relationship at the molecular level remains to be determined.

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