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J Thorac Oncol. 2013 Mar;8(3):279-86. doi: 10.1097/JTO.0b013e31827ecf83.

Detection of impaired homologous recombination repair in NSCLC cells and tissues.

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  • 1Laboratory of Cellular & Molecular Radiation Oncology, Department of Radiation Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Charlestown, MA, USA.



Homologous recombination repair (HRR) is a critical pathway for the repair of DNA damage caused by cisplatin or poly-ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitors. HRR may be impaired by multiple mechanisms in cancer, which complicates assessing the functional HRR status in cells. Here, we monitored the ability of non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells to form subnuclear foci of DNA repair proteins as a surrogate of HRR proficiency.


We assessed clonogenic survival of 16 NSCLC cell lines in response to cisplatin, mitomycin C (MMC), and the PARP inhibitor olaparib. Thirteen tumor explants from patients with NSCLC were subjected to cisplatin ex vivo. Cells were assayed for foci of repair-associated proteins such as BRCA1, FANCD2, RAD51, and γ-H2AX.


Four cell lines (25%) showed an impaired RAD51 foci-forming ability in response to cisplatin. Impaired foci formation correlated with cellular sensitivity to cisplatin, MMC and olaparib. Foci responses complemented or superseded genomic information suggesting alterations in the ATM/ATR and FA/BRCA pathways. Because baseline foci in untreated cells did not predict drug sensitivity, we adapted an ex vivo biomarker assay to monitor damage-induced RAD51 foci in NSCLC explants from patients. Ex vivo cisplatin treatment of explants identified two tumors (15%) exhibiting compromised RAD51 foci induction.


A fraction of NSCLC harbors HRR defects that may sensitize the affected tumors to DNA-damaging agents including PARP inhibitors. We propose that foci-based functional biomarker assays represent a powerful tool for prospective determination of treatment sensitivity, but will require ex vivo techniques for induction of DNA damage to unmask the underlying HRR defect.

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