Expression of delayed toxicity and lethal mutations in the progeny of human cells surviving exposure to radiation and other environmental mutagens
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PURPOSE: Delayed expression of lethal mutations in the progeny of cells which survived a toxic insult was first shown for ionizing radiation and is one of the signs of induced genomic instability. The effect appears to be related to DNA strand breakage or repair but not to the physical break itself. To investigate this and the relationship of lethal mutations or delayed death to other instability endpoints, cultures of immortal but non-transformed human keratinocytes were exposed to a range of environmental mutagens or cytotoxic compounds with different DNA damaging properties. METHODS: Delayed expression of damage was assessed by scoring a number of endpoints in the progeny of cells which survived exposure and underwent at least 15 population doublings. Endpoints included delayed apoptosis, cloning efficiency of cells in 'healthy' colonies and expression of the apoptosis regulatory proteins bcl-2 and BAX. RESULTS: The results clearly linked expression of delayed lethal mutations with substances that induced DNA strand breaks. All these substances are known also to induce oxidative stress. The occurrence of delayed damage required a threshold level of toxicity in the initially exposed population, which was remarkably similar for all the effective substances except cadmium. Alkylating agents or microtubule poisons that do not permit repair of DNA damage did not cause any delayed death. CONCLUSION: It is concluded that delayed cell death may be caused by widespread radical damage to DNA which is either signalled, thereby inducing an apoptotic response, or (mis-)repaired yielding a weak or unstable genome. It is likely that the process may be an important factor in determining the long-term response of populations to 'sublethal' levels of environmental mutagens whose mechanism of action includes DNA strand breakage and repair.
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