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Mol Cancer Ther. 2007 Apr;6(4):1239-48. Epub 2007 Apr 3.

H2AX phosphorylation marks gemcitabine-induced stalled replication forks and their collapse upon S-phase checkpoint abrogation.

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  • 1Department of Experimental Therapeutics, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Boulevard, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Gemcitabine is a nucleoside analogue that is incorporated into replicating DNA, resulting in partial chain termination and stalling of replication forks. The histone variant H2AX is phosphorylated on Ser(139) (gamma-H2AX) and forms nuclear foci at sites of DNA damage. Here, we characterize the concentration- and time-dependent phosphorylation of H2AX in response to gemcitabine-induced stalled replication forks. The number of gamma-H2AX foci increased with time up to 2 to 6 h after exposure to gemcitabine, whereas longer exposures did not cause greater phosphorylation or increase cell death. The percentage of gamma-H2AX-positive cells increased with concentrations of gemcitabine up to 0.1 micromol/L, and gamma-H2AX was most evident in the S-phase fraction. Phosphorylation of ataxia-telangiectasia mutated (ATM) on Ser(1981) was also associated with S-phase cells and colocalized in the nucleus with phosphorylated H2AX foci after gemcitabine exposure. Chemical inhibition of ATM, ATM- and Rad3-related, and DNA-dependent protein kinase blocked H2AX phosphorylation. H2AX and ATM phosphorylation were associated with inhibition of DNA synthesis, S-phase accumulation, and activation of the S-phase checkpoint pathway (Chk1/Cdc25A/cyclin-dependent kinase 2). Exposure of previously gemcitabine-treated cultures to the Chk1 inhibitor 7-hydroxystaurosporine (UCN-01) caused a 10-fold increase in H2AX phosphorylation, which was displayed as an even pan-nuclear staining. This increased phosphorylation was not due to apoptosis-induced DNA fragmentation and was associated with the S-phase fraction and decreased reproductive viability. Thus, H2AX becomes phosphorylated and forms nuclear foci in response to gemcitabine-induced stalled replication forks, and this is greatly increased upon checkpoint abrogation.

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