In an effort to identify events initiating up-regulation of epidermal growth factor receptor after single and repeated radiation exposures, we investigated the role of epidermal growth factor receptor, a receptor protein tyrosine kinase, in radiation-induced signal transduction. Human malignant mammary, MCF-7, and squamous, A431, cells showed low baseline phospho-tyrosine levels of epidermal growth factor receptor, permitting reproducible dose-dependent stimulation of epidermal growth factor receptor autophosphorylation after exposure to epidermal growth factor. MCF-7 cells exhibited a mean 2.3-fold increase (95% confidence interval: 1.91, 2.65; P < 0.0001) in levels of epidermal growth factor phosphorylation in response to exposures of 2 Gy, which was substantially less than the epidermal growth factor receptor Y phosphorylation induced by epidermal growth factor. A quantitatively similar radiation response was seen in A431 cells. In the dose range of 1 to 4 Gy, no clear dose response was seen. There was a rapid induction of radiation-induced epidermal growth factor receptor Y phosphorylation, starting within 2 min, with maximum values between 0.5 and 5 min after radiation exposure followed by a slower decline to baseline levels after 20 min. The data presented identify the epidermal growth factor receptor protein tyrosine kinase associated with the plasma membrane as one target for ionizing radiation in the dose range used in radiotherapy.

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