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Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 2011 Aug;46(4):271-83. doi: 10.3109/10409238.2011.575764. Epub 2011 Apr 27.

Understanding the limitations of radiation-induced cell cycle checkpoints.

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Darmstadt University of Technology, Radiation Biology and DNA Repair, Darmstadt, Germany.


The DNA damage response pathways involve processes of double-strand break (DSB) repair and cell cycle checkpoint control to prevent or limit entry into S phase or mitosis in the presence of unrepaired damage. Checkpoints can function to permanently remove damaged cells from the actively proliferating population but can also halt the cell cycle temporarily to provide time for the repair of DSBs. Although efficient in their ability to limit genomic instability, checkpoints are not foolproof but carry inherent limitations. Recent work has demonstrated that the G1/S checkpoint is slowly activated and allows cells to enter S phase in the presence of unrepaired DSBs for about 4-6 h post irradiation. During this time, only a slowing but not abolition of S-phase entry is observed. The G2/M checkpoint, in contrast, is quickly activated but only responds to a level of 10-20 DSBs such that cells with a low number of DSBs do not initiate the checkpoint or terminate arrest before repair is complete. Here, we discuss the limitations of these checkpoints in the context of the current knowledge of the factors involved. We suggest that the time needed to fully activate G1/S arrest reflects the existence of a restriction point in G1-phase progression. This point has previously been defined as the point when mitogen starvation fails to prevent cells from entering S phase. However, cells that passed the restriction point can respond to DSBs, albeit with reduced efficiency.

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