Pang, D., Rodgers, J. E., Berman, B. L., Chasovskikh, S. and Dritschilo, A. Spatial Distribution of Radiation-Induced Double-Strand Breaks in Plasmid DNA as Resolved by Atomic Force Microscopy. Radiat. Res. 164, 755–765 (2005).

Atomic force microscopy (AFM) has been used to directly visualize, size and compare the DNA fragments resulting from exposure to low- and high-LET radiation. Double-stranded pUC-19 plasmid (“naked”) DNA samples were irradiated by electron-beam or reactor neutron fluxes with doses ranging from 0.9 to 10 kGy. AFM scanning in the tapping mode was used to image and measure the DNA fragment lengths (ranging from a few bp up to 2864 bp long). Double-strand break (DSB) distributions resulting from high-LET neutron and lower-LET electron irradiation revealed a distinct difference between the effects of these two types of radiation: Low-LET radiation-induced DSBs are distributed more uniformly along the DNA, whereas a much larger proportion of neutron-induced DSBs are distributed locally and densely. Furthermore, comparisons with predictions of a random DSB model of radiation damage show that neutron-induced DSBs deviate more from the model than do electron-induced DSBs. In summary, our high-resolution AFM measurements of radiation-induced DNA fragment-length distributions reveal an increased number of very short fragments and hence clustering of DSBs induced by the high-LET neutron radiation compared with low-LET electron radiation and a random DSB model prediction.

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