The Journal of toxicological sciences

A method for detecting genetic toxicity using the RNA synthesis response to DNA damage.

PMID 22008527


To date, biological risk assessment studies of chemicals that induce DNA lesions have been primarily based on the action of DNA polymerases during replication. However, DNA lesions interfere not only with replication but also with transcription. Therefore, detecting the damaging effects of DNA lesions during transcription might be important for estimating the safety of chemical mutagens and carcinogens. However, methods to address these effects have not been developed. Here, we report a simple, non-isotopic method for determining the toxicity of chemical agents by visualizing transcription in a mammalian cell system. The method is based on the measurement of the incorporation of bromouridine (as the uridine analogue) into the nascent RNA during RNA synthesis inhibition (RSI) induced by the stalling of RNA polymerases at DNA lesions on the transcribed DNA strand, which triggers transcription-coupled nucleotide excision repair (TC-NER). When we tested chemical agents (camptothecin, etoposide, 4-nitroquinoline-1-oxide, mitomycin C, methyl methanesulfonate, and cisplatin) in HeLa cells by the method, RSI indicative of genomic toxicity was observed in the nucleoli of the tested cells. This procedure provides the following advantages: 1) it uses common, affordable mammalian cells (HeLa cells, WI38VA13 cells, human dermal fibroblasts, or Chinese hamster ovary cells) rather than genetically modified microorganisms; 2) it can be completed within approximately 8 hr after the cells are prepared because RNA polymerase responses during TC-NER are faster than other DNA damage responses (replication, recombination, and apoptosis); and 3) it is safe because it uses non-radioactive bromouridine and antibodies to detect RNA synthesis on undamaged transcribed DNA strands.