New test for radiation damage to DNA developed at Brookhaven Lab

lectrophoretic gels to measure the levels of clusters containing each kind of damage.

The data they've collected so far, both from DNA in solution and from human cell cultures, indicate that radiation does induce clusters of damage such as oxidized DNA bases and so-called abasic sites, where the base is simply knocked off the DNA sugar backbone. Surprisingly, says Sutherland, these other forms of clusters comprise some 80 percent of the complex damage sites observed , with double strand breaks comprising only 20 percent.

"This means that the effects of most types of complex DNA damage in the cells and how they are repaired are completely unknown. The only way to find out about them is to make careful measurements -- and we have a way to do that now," Sutherland says.

The team is currently irradiating cells, measuring various kinds of clustered damage, and assessing how rapidly the cells remove and repair the different forms of damage. Scientists could also use the technique to see if all cells in the body respond the same way, and if there are differences in susceptibility to certain kinds of damage among species, or among different people.

The findings could indicate whether certain people might run a greater risk of radiation damage during long-term missions to Mars or on the Space Station. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) estimates that DNA in one-third of astronauts' cells will be hit directly by a heavy charged particle during each year in space. The studies could also help assess the potential of antioxidants to counteract DNA damage, or reveal ways to use radiation more effectively in fighting cancer. "We hope that if we learn how to alter damage to tumor cells, we can improve therapeutic regimens," Sutherland says.


Contact: Karen McNulty
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

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