Date Published: 22 September 2008

People's cells react differently to DNA-damaging agents

Cancer Research UK

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found that different people's cells do not react the same way when exposed to a toxic chemical that damages DNA.

The researchers treated cells from different people with a compound called MNNG, which kills cells by causing irreparable DNA damage.

They found that some people's cells were far more susceptible to DNA damage than others and believe this may explain why some people are more responsive to chemotherapy than others.


"It wasn't known that cell lines from different people could have such dramatic differences in responses."
- Rebecca Fry, former MIT research scientist

Rebecca Fry, former MIT research scientist and lead author of the study in Genes and Development journal, commented:

"A cell line from one person would be killed dramatically, while that from another person was resistant to exposure.

It wasn't known that cell lines from different people could have such dramatic differences in responses."

The differences are due to individuals having slight differences in genes involved in chemical pathways for DNA repair.

Senior author Leona Samson, director of the institute's Centre for Environmental Health Sciences, added:

"Even if everyone is exposed to exactly the same things, they would respond differently, because we're all genetically different."

The team also identified 48 genes that can be used to predict how susceptible a person is to MNNG with 94% accuracy.

Several of these genes have already been linked to cancer, said Samson, but it was not known that their expression is already altered before exposure to the DNA damaging agent.

They believe that the technique could one day be used to predict an individual's response to cancer treatment and are now working to predict individual patients' responses to other toxic compounds, including the chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and temozolomide.

 

Source: Cancer Research UK.

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