The effect of ionizing radiation (137 Cs) on processing and transport of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) was studied by pulse-labeling HeLa S3 cells with [3 H]uridine immediately prior to irradiation. This approach permits kinetic analysis of processing of 45 S rRNA (radiolabeled predominantly prior to irradiation) into its 28 S and 18 S rRNA daughter species following irradiation. By this technique, we have recently demonstrated an increase in the normal 28 S:18 S rRNA stoichiometric ratio of 1:1 to as high as 1.6:1 during the interval 5 to 20 h following irradiation of HeLa cells at ≥7.5 Gy. Alterations in 28 S:18 S ratio were evaluated in greater detail at early times following irradiation, up to 2 h. The 28 S:18 S ratio was found to be maximal at 1 h after radiation, at about 2:1, following 5 or 10 Gy. Using a method for rapid separation of nucleus from cytoplasm, transport of rRNA from nucleus to cytoplasm was also evaluated during this period. Despite an increase in the rate of 45 S rRNA processing, as well as an increased 28 S:18 S ratio, no alterations in transport from nucleus to cytoplasm were detected. This lack of transport alteration suggests that accumulation of excess 28 S rRNA is restricted to the nucleus, where it may represent an early step in the process of radiation-induced cell killing.

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