As hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) self-renew throughout life, accumulation of genomic alterations can potentially give rise to radiation carcinogenesis. In this study we examined DNA double-strand break (DSB) induction and repair as well as mutagenic effects of ionizing radiation in CD34+ cells and T lymphocytes from the umbilical cord of newborns. The age dependence of DNA damage repair end points was investigated by comparing newborn T lymphocytes with adult peripheral blood T lymphocytes. As umbilical cord blood (UCB) contains T lymphocytes that are practically all phenotypically immature, we examined the radiation response of separated naive (CD45RA+) and memory (CD45RO+) T lymphocytes. The number of DNA DSBs was assessed by microscopic scoring of γ-H2AX/53BP1 foci 0.5 h after low-dose radiation exposure, while DNA repair was studied by scoring the number of residual γ-H2AX/53BP1 foci 24 h after exposure. Mutagenic effects were studied by the cytokinesis block micronucleus (CBMN) assay. No significant differences in the number of DNA DSBs induced by low-dose (100–200 mGy) radiation were observed among the three different cell types. However, residual γ-H2AX/53BP1 foci levels 24 h postirradiation were significantly lower in CD34+ cells compared to newborn T lymphocytes, while newborn T lymphocytes showed significantly higher foci yields than adult T lymphocytes. No significant differences in the level of radiation-induced micronuclei at 2 Gy were observed between CD34+ cells and newborn T lymphocytes. However, newborn T lymphocytes showed a significantly higher number of micronuclei compared to adult T lymphocytes. These results confirm that CD34+ cell quiescence promotes mutagenesis after exposure. Furthermore, we can conclude that newborn peripheral T lymphocytes are significantly more radiosensitive than adult peripheral T lymphocytes. Using the results from the comparative study of radiation-induced DNA damage repair end points in naive (CD45RA+) and memory (CD45RO+) T lymphocytes, we could demonstrate that the observed differences between newborn and adult T lymphocytes can be explained by the immunophenotypic change of T lymphocytes with age, which is presumably linked with the remodeling of the closed chromatin structure of naive T lymphocytes.

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