Spermine is an efficient radioprotector of plasmid or viral DNA and of viral minichromosomes by a mechanism involving radical scavenging and the induction of compaction and aggregation of DNA. Based on radioprotection of SV40 minichromosomes at a lower spermine concentration than needed for SV40 DNA, Newton et al. (Radiat. Res. 145, 776-780, 1996) proposed that the differential concentration dependence could account for the greater radiosensitivity of open regions of cellular chromatin compared to bulk inactive chromatin at physiological levels of spermine. However, we recently reported that, whereas the effects of spermine on the formation of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) in dehistonized V79 cell DNA (nucleoids) were consistent with spermine-induced DNA compaction, spermine provided no radioprotection of native chromatin and only modest radioprotection of histone H1-depleted chromatin (Chiu and Oleinick, Radiat. Res. 148, 188-192, 1997). To further characterize the radioprotection of cellular chromatin by spermine, radiation-induced DNA-protein crosslinks (DPCs) were investigated, because of evidence that these lesions occur preferentially at or near the sites of anchorage of chromosomes to the nuclear matrix. In contrast to the relatively inefficient radioprotection of V79 cell chromatin against the formation of DSBs, low concentrations (<0.1 mM) of spermine or putrescine provided partial radioprotection against the formation of DPCs in both native and H1-depleted chromatin. Whereas all DPCs generated by the irradiation of chromatin, above the level generated in intact cells, could be blocked by 5 mM spermine, less than half could be blocked by 5 mM putrescine. The difference in efficiency of radioprotection of native chromatin by the two polyamines can be accounted for by assuming that the binding of spermine is 10 times as efficient as the binding of putrescine. The results suggest that (a) both spermine and putrescine bind preferentially and with high affinity at matrix-associated sites of formation of DPCs, disrupting the association between DNA and protein that are essential for formation of DPCs and/or scavenging hydroxyl radicals at these sites; (b) a smaller fraction of the sites are susceptible to putrescine than to spermine; and (c) endogenous spermine is a major radioprotector of cells against the formation of DPCs, either because of specific features of the lesion or because of the site of lesion formation at the nuclear matrix.

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