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J Phys Chem B. 2014 Nov 20;118(46):13123-31. doi: 10.1021/jp508170c. Epub 2014 Nov 10.

Loss of cellular transformation efficiency induced by DNA irradiation with low-energy (10 eV) electrons.

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Department of Nuclear Medicine & Radiobiology, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Sherbrooke , Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada J1H 5N4.


Low energy electrons (LEEs) of energies less than 20 eV are generated in large quantities by ionizing radiation in biological matter. While LEEs are known to induce single (SSBs) and double strand breaks (DSBs) in DNA, their ability to inactivate cells by inducing nonreparable lethal damage has not yet been demonstrated. Here we observe the effect of LEEs on the functionality of DNA, by measuring the efficiency of transforming Escherichia coli with a [pGEM-3Zf (-)] plasmid irradiated with 10 eV electrons. Highly ordered DNA films were prepared on pyrolitic graphite by molecular self-assembly using 1,3-diaminopropane ions (Dap(2+)). The uniformity of these films permits the inactivation of approximately 50% of the plasmids compared to <10% using previous methods, which is sufficient for the subsequent determination of their functionality. Upon LEE irradiation, the fraction of functional plasmids decreased exponentially with increasing electron fluence, while LEE-induced isolated base damage, frank DSB, and non DSB-cluster damage increased linearly with fluence. While DSBs can be toxic, their levels were too low to explain the loss of plasmid functionality observed upon LEE irradiation. Similarly, non-DSB cluster damage, revealed by transforming cluster damage into DSBs by digestion with repair enzymes, also occurred relatively infrequently. The exact nature of the lethal damage remains unknown, but it is probably a form of compact cluster damage in which the lesions are too close to be revealed by purified repair enzymes. In addition, this damage is either not repaired or is misrepaired by E. coli, since it results in plasmid inactivation, when they contain an average of three lesions. Comparison with previous results from a similar experiment performed with γ-irradiated plasmids indicates that the type of clustered DNA lesions, created directly on cellular DNA by LEEs, may be more difficult to repair than those produced by other species from radiolysis.

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