Inhibition of ATM induces hypersensitivity to proton irradiation by upregulating toxic end joining

Qin Zhou, Michelle E. Howard, Xinyi Tu, Qian Zhu, Janet M. Denbeigh, Nicholas B. Remmes, Michael G. Herman, Chris J. Beltran, Jian Yuan, Patricia T. Greipp, Judy C. Boughey, Liewei Wang, Neil Johnson, Matthew P. Goetz, Jann N. Sarkaria, Zhenkun Lou, Robert W. Mutter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Proton Bragg peak irradiation has a higher ionizing density than conventional photon irradiation or the entrance of the proton beam profile. Whether targeting the DNA damage response (DDR) could enhance vulnerability to the distinct pattern of damage induced by proton Bragg peak irradiation is currently unknown. Here, we performed genetic or pharmacologic manipulation of key DDR elements and evaluated DNA damage signaling, DNA repair, and tumor control in cell lines and xenografts treated with the same physical dose across a radiotherapy linear energy transfer spectrum. Radiotherapy consisted of 6 MV photons and the entrance beam or Bragg peak of a 76.8 MeV spot scanning proton beam. More complex DNA double-strand breaks (DSB) induced by Bragg peak proton irradiation preferentially underwent resection and engaged homologous recombination (HR) machinery. Unexpectedly, the ataxia-telangiectasia mutated (ATM) inhibitor, AZD0156, but not an inhibitor of ATM and Rad3-related, rendered cells hypersensitive to more densely ionizing proton Bragg peak irradiation. ATM inhibition blocked resection and shunted more DSBs to processing by toxic ligation through nonhomologous end-joining, whereas loss of DNA ligation via XRCC4 or Lig4 knockdown rescued resection and abolished the enhanced Bragg peak cell killing. Proton Bragg peak monotherapy selectively sensitized cell lines and tumor xenografts with inherent HR defects, and the repair defect induced by ATM inhibitor coadministration showed enhanced efficacy in HR-proficient models. In summary, inherent defects in HR or administration of an ATM inhibitor in HR-proficient tumors selectively enhances the relative biological effectiveness of proton Bragg peak irradiation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3333-3346
Number of pages14
JournalCancer research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'Inhibition of ATM induces hypersensitivity to proton irradiation by upregulating toxic end joining'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this