Zheng, Y., Hunting, D. J., Ayotte, P. and Sanche, L. Radiosensitization of DNA by Gold Nanoparticles Irradiated with High-Energy Electrons. Radiat. Res. 168, 19–27 (2008).

Thin films of pGEM-3Zf(−) plasmid DNA were bombarded by 60 keV electrons with and without gold nanoparticles. DNA single- and double-strand breaks (SSBs and DSBs) were measured by agarose gel electrophoresis. From transmission electron micrographs, the gold nanoparticles were found to be closely linked to DNA scaffolds, probably as a result of electrostatic binding. The probabilities for formation of SSBs and DSBs from exposure of 1:1 and 2:1 gold nanoparticle:plasmid mixtures to fast electrons increase by a factor of about 2.5 compared to neat DNA samples. For monolayer DNA adsorbed on a thick gold substrate, the damage increases by an order of magnitude. The results suggest that the enhancement of radiosensitivity is due to the production of additional low-energy secondary electrons caused by the increased absorption of ionizing radiation energy by the metal, in the form of gold nanoparticles or of a thick gold substrate. Since short-range low-energy secondary electrons are produced in large amounts by any type of ionizing radiation, and since on average only one gold nanoparticle per DNA molecule is needed to increase damage considerably, targeting the DNA of cancer cells with gold nanoparticles may offer a novel approach that is generally applicable to radiotherapy treatments.

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