The induction by H2 O2 of DNA breaks, DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), and interphase chromatin damage and their relationship to cytotoxicity were studied in plateau-phase Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. Damage in interphase chromatin was assayed by means of premature chromosome condensation (PCC); DNA DSBs were assayed by nondenaturing filter elution (pH 9.6), and DNA breaks by hydroxyapatite chromatography. Cells were treated with H2 O2 in suspension at 0°C for 30 min and treatment was terminated by the addition of catalase. Concentrations of H2 O2 lower than 1 mM were not cytotoxic, whereas concentrations of 40 and 60 mM reduced cell survival to 0.1 and 0.004, respectively. An induction of DNA breaks that was dependent on H2 O2 concentration was observed at low H2 O2 concentrations that reached a maximum at approximately 1 mM; at higher H2 O2 concentrations induction of DNA breaks either remained unchanged or decreased. Damage at the chromosome level was not evenly distributed among the cells, when compared to that expected based on a Poisson distribution. Three categories of cells were identified after exposure to H2 O2: cells with intact, control-like chromosomes, cells showing chromosome fragmentation similar to that observed in cells exposed to ionizing radiation, and cells showing a loss in the ability of their chromatin to condense into chromosomes under the PCC reaction. The fraction of cells with fragmented chromosomes, as well as the number of excess chromosomes per cell, showed a dose response similar to that of DNA DSBs, reaching a maximum at 1 mM and decreasing at higher concentrations. The results indicate that induction of DNA and chromosome damage by H2 O2 follows a complex dependence probably resulting from a depletion of reducing equivalents in the vicinity of the DNA. Reducing equivalents are required to recycle the transition metal ions that are needed to maintain a Fenton-type reaction. The absence of cell killing at H2 O2 concentrations that yielded the maximum amount of DNA and chromosome damage suggests that this damage is nonlethal and repairable. It is suggested that lethal DNA and chromosome damage is induced at higher concentrations of H2 O2 where cell killing is observed by an unidentified mechanism.

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