Normal tissue injury resulting from cancer radiotherapy is often associated with diminished regenerative capacity. We examined the relative radiosensitivity of normal stem cell populations compared with non-stem cells within several radiosensitive tissue niches and culture models. We found that these stem cells are highly radiosensitive, in contrast to their isogenic differentiated progeny. Of interest, they also exhibited a uniquely attenuated DNA damage response (DDR) and muted DNA repair. Whereas stem cells exhibit reduced ATM activation and ionizing radiation-induced foci, they display apoptotic pannuclear H2AX-S139 phosphorylation (γH2AX), indicating unique radioresponses. We also observed persistent phosphorylation of H2AX-Y142 along the DNA breaks in stem cells, which promotes apoptosis while inhibiting DDR signaling. In addition, down-regulation of constitutively elevated histone-3 lysine-56 acetylation (H3K56ac) in stem cells significantly decreased their radiosensitivity, restored DDR function, and increased survival, signifying its role as a key contributor to stem cell radiosensitivity. These results establish that unique epigenetic landscapes affect cellular heterogeneity in radiosensitivity and demonstrate the nonubiquitous nature of radiation responses. We thus elucidate novel epigenetic rheostats that promote ionizing radiation hypersensitivity in various normal stem cell populations, identifying potential molecular targets for pharmacological radioprotection of stem cells and hopefully improving the efficacy of future cancer treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1332-1345
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular biology of the cell
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 15 2016


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