There are contradictory observations about the different radiosensitivities of cancer stem cells and cancer non-stem cells. To resolve these contradictory observations, we studied radiosensitivities by employing breast cancer stem cell (CSC)-like MDA-MB231 and MDA-MB453 cells as well as their corresponding non-stem cells. CSC-like cells proliferate without differentiating and have characteristics of tumor-initiating cells . These cells were exposed to γ-rays (1.25-8.75 Gy) and survival curves were determined by colony formation. A final slope, D0, of the survival curve for each cell line was determined to measure radiosensitivity. The D0 of CSC-like and non-stem MDA-MB-453 cells were 1.16 Gy and 1.55 Gy, respectively. Similar results were observed in MDA-MB-231 cells (0.94 Gy vs. 1.56 Gy). After determination of radiosensitivity, we investigated intrinsic cellular determinants which influence radiosensitivity including cell cycle distribution, free-radical scavengers and DNA repair. We observed that even though cell cycle status and antioxidant content may contribute to differential radiosensitivity, differential DNA repair capacity may be a greater determinant of radiosensitivity. Unlike non-stem cells, CSC-like cells have little/no sublethal damage repair, a low intracellular level of ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) and delay of γ-H2AX foci removal (DNA strand break repair). These results suggest that low DNA repair capacity is responsible for the high radiosensitivity of these CSC-like cells.
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