In cells exposed to ionizing radiation, double-strand breaks (DSBs) form within clustered damage sites from lesions disrupting the DNA sugar-phosphate backbone. It is commonly assumed that DSBs form promptly and are immediately detected and processed by the cellular DNA damage response apparatus. However, DSBs also form by delayed chemical conversion of thermally-labile sugar lesions (TLSL) to breaks. We recently reported that conversion of thermally-labile sugar lesions to breaks occurs in cells maintained at physiological temperatures. Here, we investigate the influence of radiation quality on the formation of thermally-labile sugar lesions dependent DSBs. We show that, although the yields of total DSBs are very similar after exposure to neutrons and X rays, the yields of thermally-labile sugar lesions dependent DSBs from neutrons are decreased in comparison to that from X rays. Thus, the yields of prompt DSBs for neutrons are greater than for X rays. Notably, after neutron irradiation the decreased yield of thermally-labile sugar lesion dependent DSBs is strongly cell line dependent, likely reflecting subtle differences in DNA organization. We propose that the higher ionization density of neutrons generates with higher probability prompt DSBs within ionization clusters and renders the ensuing chemical evolution of thermally-labile sugar lesions inconsequential to DNA integrity. Modification of thermally-labile sugar lesion evolution may define novel radiation protection strategies aiming at decreasing DSB formation by chemically preserving thermally-labile sugar lesions until other DSB contributing lesions within the clustered damage site are removed by non-DSB repair pathways.
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Vol. 178 • No. 6