An asynchronous culture of mammalian cells responds acutely to ionizing radiation by inhibiting the overall rate of DNA replication by ~ 50% for a period of several hours, presumably to allow time to repair DNA damage. At low and moderate doses, this S phase damage-sensing (SDS) pathway appears to function primarily at the level of individual origins of replication, with only a modest inhibition of chain elongation per se. We have shown previously that the majority of the inhibition observed in an asynchronous culture can be accounted for by late G1 cells that were within 2-3 h of entering the S period at the time of irradiation and which then fail to do so. A much smaller effect was observed on the overall rate of replication in cells that had already entered the S phase. This raised the question whether origins of replication that are activated within S phase per se are inhibited in response to ionizing radiation. Here we have used a two-dimensional gel replicon mapping strategy to show that cells with an intact SDS pathway completely down-regulate initiation in both early- and late-firing rDNA origins in human cells. We also show that initiation in mid- or late-firing rDNA origins is not inhibited in cells from patients with ataxia telangiectasia, confirming the suggestion that these individuals lack the SDS pathway.
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