The nature of the primary biochemical defect in the human radiosensitive and cancer-prone syndrome, ataxia telangiectasia (AT), has remained obscure despite many efforts to elucidate it. In this study, AT complementation group D cells and a nearly isogenic corrected AT-hamster hybrid derivative have been analyzed for induction and repair of initial double-strand breaks (DSBs) after exposure to ionizing radiation, using a sensitive field-inversion electrophoresis technique. Results suggesting that initial levels of damage are the same in these two cell types, but indicating differences in the fast component of DNA repair, have been compared and correlated with those resulting from a study of the radioresistant DNA synthesis defect and its correction in the same cell lines. These measurements show that the radioresistant phenotype of the substantially corrected AT-hamster hybrid correlates with its higher level of fast-component DSB repair and higher level of inhibition of DNA synthesis, but that the initial damage induction does not contribute to the phenotype. We propose that the AT gene product(s) is likely to act early in a signaling pathway which controls both DNA repair and progression of cells through the phases of the cell cycle in response to ionizing radiation.

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