All cells have intricately coupled sensing and signaling mechanisms that regulate the cellular outcome following exposure to genotoxic agents such as ionizing radiation (IR). In the IR-induced signaling pathway, specific protein events, such as ataxia-telangiectasia mutated protein (ATM) activation and histone H2AX phosphorylation (gamma-H2AX), are mechanistically well characterized. How these mechanisms can be altered, especially by clinically relevant agents, is not clear. Here we show that hyperthermia, an effective radiosensitizer, can induce several steps associated with IR signaling in cells. Hyperthermia induces gamma-H2AX foci formation similar to foci formed in response to IR exposure, and heat-induced gamma-H2AX foci formation is dependent on ATM but independent of heat shock protein 70 expression. Hyperthermia also enhanced ATM kinase activity and increased cellular ATM autophosphorylation. The hyperthermia-induced increase in ATM phosphorylation was independent of Mre11 function. Similar to IR, hyperthermia also induced MDC1 foci formation; however, it did not induce all of the characteristic signals associated with irradiation because formation of 53BP1 and SMC1 foci was not observed in heated cells but occurred in irradiated cells. Additionally, induction of chromosomal DNA strand breaks was observed in IR-exposed but not in heated cells. These results indicate that hyperthermia activates signaling pathways that overlap with those activated by IR-induced DNA damage. Moreover, prior activation of ATM or other components of the IR-induced signaling pathway by heat may interfere with the normal IR-induced signaling required for chromosomal DNA double-strand break repair, thus resulting in increased cellular radiosensitivity.
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