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Radiother Oncol. 1998 May;47(2):113-23.

Radiosensitivity and oxidative signalling in ataxia telangiectasia: an update.

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The Queensland Institute of Medical Research, PO Royal Brisbane Hospital, Herston, Australia.


Radiosensitivity is a major hallmark of the human genetic disorder ataxia telangiectasia. This hypersensitivity to ionizing radiation has been demonstrated in vivo after exposure of patients to therapeutic doses of radiation and in cells in culture. Clearly an understanding of the nature of the molecular defect in ataxia telangiectasia will be of considerable assistance in delineating additional pathways that determine cellular radiosensitivity/radioresistance. Furthermore, since patients with this syndrome are also predisposed to developing a number of leukaemias and lymphomas, the possible connection between radiosensitivity and cancer predisposition is of interest. Now that the gene (ATM) responsible for this genetic disease has been cloned and identified, progress is being made in determining the role of the ATM protein in mediating the effects of cellular exposure to ionizing radiation and other forms of redox stress. Proteins such as the product of the tumour suppressor gene p53 and the proto-oncogene c-Abl (a protein tyrosine kinase) have been shown to interact with ATM. Since several intermediate steps in both the p53 and c-Abl pathways, activated by ionizing radiation, are known it will be possible to map the position of ATM in these pathways and describe its mechanism of action. What are the clinical implications of understanding the molecular basis of the defect in ataxia telangiectasia (A-T)? As outlined above, since radiosensitivity is a universal characteristic of A-T, understanding the mechanism of action of ATM will provide additional information on radiation signalling in human cells. With this information it may be possible to sensitize tumour cells to radiation and thus increase the therapeutic benefit of radiotherapy. This might involve the use of small molecules that would interfere with the normal ATM-controlled pathways and thus sensitize cells to radiation or alternatively it might involve the efficient introduction of ATM anti-sense cDNA constructs into tumours to achieve the same end-point.

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