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PURPOSE: To investigate the precise mechanism of recognition and processing of ionizing radiation (IR)-induced complex DNA damage (CDD), where two or more DNA lesions are in close proximity, in cellular DNA which is packaged with histones to form chromatin. METHODS AND MATERIALS: HeLa and oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (UMSCC74A and UMSCC6) cells were irradiated with high linear energy transfer (LET) α-particles or protons, versus low-LET protons and X rays. At various time points after irradiation, site-specific histone post-translational modifications were analyzed by quantitative Western blotting; DNA damage and repair were measured by different versions of the comet assay; and cell survival was determined using clonogenic assays. RESULTS: Site-specific histone post-translational modifications after low- and high-LET radiation, particularly proton irradiation, were screened, aiming to identify those responsive to CDD. We demonstrate that histone H2B ubiquitylated on lysine 120 (H2Bub) is specifically induced several hours after irradiation in response to high-LET α-particles and protons but not by low-LET protons or X rays/γ-radiation. This is associated with increased levels of CDD, which contributes to decreased cell survival. We further discovered that modulation of H2Bub is under the control of two E3 ubiquitin ligases, MSL2 and RNF20/RNF40 complex, whose depletion leads to defective processing and further persistence of CDD, and to additional decreased cell survival after irradiation. CONCLUSION: This study demonstrates that the signaling and repair of CDD, particularly induced by high-LET IR is co-ordinated through the specific induction of H2Bub catalyzed by MSL2 and RNF20/40, a mechanism that contributes significantly to cell survival after irradiation.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys

Publication Date





776 - 784


Alpha Particles, Cell Line, Tumor, Cell Survival, Chromatin, Comet Assay, DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded, DNA Breaks, Single-Stranded, DNA Repair, HeLa Cells, Histones, Humans, Linear Energy Transfer, Lysine, Protons, Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases, Ubiquitination