Monoubiquitinated γ-H2AX: Abundant product and specific biomarker for non-apoptotic DNA double-strand breaks

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DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are a highly toxic form of DNA damage produced by a number of carcinogens, drugs, and metabolic abnormalities. Involvement of DSBs in many pathologies has led to frequent measurements of these lesions, primarily via biodosimetry of S139-phosphorylated histone H2AX (γ-H2AX). However, γ-H2AX is also induced by some non-DSB conditions and abundantly formed in apoptosis, raising concerns about the overestimation of potential genotoxic agents and accuracy of DSB assessments. DSB-triggered γ-H2AX undergoes RNF168-mediated K13/K15 monoubiquitination, which is rarely analyzed in DSB/genotoxicity studies. Here we identified critical methodological factors that are necessary for the efficient detection of mono- (ub1) and diubiquitinated (ub2) γ-H2AX. Using optimized technical conditions, we found that γ-H2AX-ub1 was a predominant form of γ-H2AX in three primary human cell lines containing mechanistically distinct types of DSBs. Replication stress-associated DSBs also triggered extensive formation of γ-H2AX-ub1. For DSBs induced by oxidative damage or topoisomerase II, both γ-H2AX and γ-H2AX-ub1 showed dose-dependent increases whereas γ-H2AX-ub2 plateaued at low levels of breaks. Despite abundance of γ-H2AX, γ-H2AX-ub1,2 formation was blocked in apoptosis, which was associated with proteolytic cleavage of RNF168. Chromatin damage also caused only the production of γ-H2AX but not its ub1,2 forms. Our results revealed a major contribution of ubiquitinated forms to the overall γ-H2AX response and demonstrated the specificity of monoubiquitinated γ-H2AX as a biodosimeter of non-apoptotic DSBs.HIGHLIGHTSOptimized conditions for detection of monoubiquitinated γ-H2AX (γ-H2AX-ub1)γ-H2AX-ub1 is a main form in normal cells with DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs)γ-H2AX-ub1 is a dose-dependent biomarker of DSBs arising as DNA damageUnlike γ-H2AX, γ-H2AX-ub1 was absent in apoptotic cells or after chromatin damage

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