The effects of radiation in two-dimensional (2D) cell culture conditions may not recapitulate tissue responses as modeled in three-dimensional (3D) organotypic culture. In this study, we determined if the frequency of radiation-induced transformation and cancer progression differed in 3D compared to 2D culture. Telomerase immortalized human bronchial epithelial cells (HBECs) with shTP53 and mutant KRas expression were exposed to various types of radiation (gamma, + H, 56 Fe) in either 2D or 3D culture. After irradiation, 3D structures were dissociated and passaged as a monolayer followed by measurement of transformation, cell growth and expression analysis. Cells irradiated in 3D produced significantly fewer and smaller colonies in soft agar than their 2D-irradiated counterparts (gamma P = 0.0004; + H P = 0.049; 56 Fe P < 0.0001). The cell culture conditions did not affect cell killing, the ability of cells to survive in a colony formation assay, and proliferation rates after radiation-implying there was no selection against cells in or dissociated from 3D conditions. However, DNA damage repair and apoptosis markers were increased in 2D cells compared to 3D cells after radiation. Ideally, expanding the utility of 3D culture will allow for a better understanding of the biological consequences of radiation exposure.
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