There is evidence suggesting that radiosensitization induced in mammalian cells by substitution in the DNA of thymidine with BrdU has a component that relies on inhibition of repair and/or fixation of radiation damage. Here, experiments designed to study the mechanism of this phenomenon are described. The effect of BrdU incorporation into DNA was studied on cellular repair capability, rejoining of interphase chromosome breaks, as well as induction and rejoining of DNA double- and single-stranded breaks (DSBs and SSBs) in plateau-phase CHO cells exposed to X rays. Repair of potentially lethal damage (PLD), as measured by delayed plating of plateau-phase cells, was used to assay cellular repair capacity. Rejoining of interphase chromosome breaks was assayed by means of premature chromosome condensation (PCC); induction and rejoining of DNA DSBs were assayed by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis and induction and rejoining of DNA SSBs by DNA unwinding. A decrease was observed in the rate of repair of PLD in cells grown in the presence of BrdU, the magnitude of which depended upon the degree of thymidine replacement. The relative increase in survival caused by PLD repair was larger in cells substituted with BrdU and led to a partial loss of the radiosensitizing effect compared to cells tested immediately after irradiation. A decrease was also observed in the rate of rejoining of interphase chromosome breaks as well as in the rate of rejoining of the slow component of DNA DSBs in cells substituted with BrdU. The time constants measured for the rejoining of the slow component of DNA DSBs and of interphase chromosome breaks were similar both in the presence and in the absence of BrdU, suggesting a correlation between this subset of DNA lesions and interphase chromosome breaks. It is proposed that a larger proportion of radiation-induced potentially lethal lesions becomes lethal in cells grown in the presence of BrdU. Potentially lethal lesions are fixed via interaction with processes associated with cell cycle progression in cells plated immediately after irradiation, but can be partly repaired in cells kept in the plateau-phase. It is hypothesized that fixation of PLD is caused by alterations in chromatin conformation that occur during normal progression of cells throughout the cell cycle. Results on the quantification of DNA DSBs and SSBs in cells substituted with BrdU are also presented and differences from data published previously are discussed; it is suggested that quantitative measurement of alterations in the induction by radiation of damage in BrdU-substituted DNA may be hampered by changes induced in the physicochemical properties of the molecule that affect the behavior of DNA molecules during the assays and complicate the interpretation of the results obtained.

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