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Cancer Res. 1997 Aug 15;57(16):3600-5.

Resistance to radiation-induced apoptosis in Burkitt's lymphoma cells is associated with defective ceramide signaling.

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Queensland Cancer Fund Research Unit, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, P.O. Royal Brisbane Hospital, Herston, Australia.


Increased sensitivity to ionizing radiation has been shown to be due to defects in double-strand break repair and mutations in the proteins that detect DNA damage. However, it is now recognized that the cellular radiation response is complex and that radioresistance/radiosensitivity may also be regulated at different levels in the radiation signal transduction pathway. Here, we describe a direct relationship between resistance to radiation-induced apoptosis and defective ceramide signaling. Radiation sensitivity in human tumor cells correlated with the immediate accumulation of the second messenger ceramide. In the BL30A Burkitt's lymphoma line, ceramide increased 4-fold by 10 min postirradiation (10 Gy), and in the moderately sensitive HL-60 leukemia cells, ceramide accumulated 2.5-fold above basal levels. In contrast, in all radioresistant tumor cells examined, including several Burkitt's lymphoma lines (BL30K, BL29, and BL36) and the MO59K glioma cell line, ceramide did not accumulate postirradiation. The ability to abrogate ceramide production by pretreatment with the tumor promoter, 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol 13-acetate, conferred resistance to radiation-induced apoptosis in the sensitive BL30A cells. An isogenic subline of BL30A, BL30K, was resistant to both C8-ceramide (20 microM) and ionizing radiation-induced apoptosis. Bypassing the block in radiation-induced ceramide production by the addition of exogenous ceramide was not sufficient to induce apoptosis; this suggests the existence of a second ceramide-associated signaling defect in these radioresistant cells that confers resistance to ceramide-induced apoptosis. Thus, these results provide compelling evidence that ceramide is an essential mediator of radiation-induced apoptosis and that defective ceramide signaling confers an apoptosis-resistant phenotype in tumor cells.

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