The risk of developing radiation-induced lung cancer differs between different strains of mice, but the underlying cause of the strain differences is unknown. Strains of mice also differ in how quickly they repair radiation-induced DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). We assayed mouse strains from the CcS/Dem recombinant congenic strain set for their efficacy in repairing DNA DSBs during protracted irradiation. We measured unrepaired γ-H2AX radiation-induced foci (RIF), which persisted after chronic 24-h gamma irradiation, as a surrogate marker for repair efficiency in bronchial epithelial cells for 17 of the CcS/Dem strains and the BALB/c founder strain. We observed a very strong correlation (R2 = 79.18%, P < 0.001) between the level of unrepaired RIF and radiogenic lung cancer incidence measured in the same strains. Interestingly, spontaneous levels of foci in nonirradiated mice also showed good correlation with lung cancer incidence when incidence data from male and female mice were combined. These results suggest that genetic differences in DNA repair capacity largely account for differing susceptibilities to radiation-induced lung cancer among CcS/Dem mouse strains, and that high levels of spontaneous DNA damage are also a relatively good marker of cancer predisposition. In a smaller pilot study, we found that the repair capacity measured in peripheral blood leucocytes also correlated well with radiogenic lung cancer susceptibility, raising the possibility that the assay could be used to detect radiogenic lung cancer susceptibility in humans.

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