Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

DNA-PKcs plays a dominant role in the regulation of H2AX phosphorylation in response to DNA damage and cell cycle progression

Jing An12, Yue-Cheng Huang1, Qing-Zhi Xu1, Li-Jun Zhou3, Zeng-Fu Shang1, Bo Huang1, Yu Wang1, Xiao-Dan Liu1, De-Chang Wu1 and Ping-Kun Zhou1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Radiation Toxicology and Oncology, Beijing Institute of Radiation Medicine, Beijing 100850, PR China

2 Institute of Environmental Pollution and Health, School of Environmental and Chemical Engineering, Shanghai University, Shanghai 200072, PR China

3 The Center of Clinical Laboratory, Navy General Hospital, PLA, Beijing 100037, PR China

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BMC Molecular Biology 2010, 11:18  doi:10.1186/1471-2199-11-18

Published: 6 March 2010



When DNA double-strand breaks (DSB) are induced by ionizing radiation (IR) in cells, histone H2AX is quickly phosphorylated into γ-H2AX (p-S139) around the DSB site. The necessity of DNA-PKcs in regulating the phosphorylation of H2AX in response to DNA damage and cell cycle progression was investigated.


The level of γH2AX in HeLa cells increased rapidly with a peak level at 0.25 - 1.0 h after 4 Gy γ irradiation. SiRNA-mediated depression of DNA-PKcs resulted in a strikingly decreased level of γH2AX. An increased γH2AX was also induced in the ATM deficient cell line AT5BIVA at 0.5 - 1.0 h after 4 Gy γ rays, and this IR-increased γH2AX in ATM deficient cells was dramatically abolished by the PIKK inhibitor wortmannin and the DNA-PKcs specific inhibitor NU7026. A high level of constitutive expression of γH2AX was observed in another ATM deficient cell line ATS4. The alteration of γH2AX level associated with cell cycle progression was also observed. HeLa cells with siRNA-depressed DNA-PKcs (HeLa-H1) or normal level DNA-PKcs (HeLa-NC) were synchronized at the G1 phase with the thymidine double-blocking method. At ~5 h after the synchronized cells were released from the G1 block, the S phase cells were dominant (80%) for both HeLa-H1 and HeLa-NC cells. At 8 - 9 h after the synchronized cells released from the G1 block, the proportion of G2/M population reached 56 - 60% for HeLa-NC cells, which was higher than that for HeLa H1 cells (33 - 40%). Consistently, the proportion of S phase for HeLa-NC cells decreased to ~15%; while a higher level (26 - 33%) was still maintained for the DNA-PKcs depleted HeLa-H1 cells during this period. In HeLa-NC cells, the γH2AX level increased gradually as the cells were released from the G1 block and entered the G2/M phase. However, this γH2AX alteration associated with cell cycle progressing was remarkably suppressed in the DNA-PKcs depleted HeLa-H1 cells, while wortmannin and NU7026 could also suppress this cell cycle related phosphorylation of H2AX. Furthermore, inhibition of GSK3β activity with LiCl or specific siRNA could up-regulate the γH2AX level and prolong the time of increased γH2AX to 10 h or more after 4 Gy. GSK3β is a negative regulation target of DNA-PKcs/Akt signaling via phosphorylation on Ser9, which leads to its inactivation. Depression of DNA-PKcs in HeLa cells leads to a decreased phosphorylation of Akt on Ser473 and its target GSK3β on Ser9, which, in other words, results in an increased activation of GSK3β. In addition, inhibition of PDK (another up-stream regulator of Akt/GSK3β) by siRNA can also decrease the induction of γH2AX in response to both DNA damage and cell cycle progression.


DNA-PKcs plays a dominant role in regulating the phosphorylation of H2AX in response to both DNA damage and cell cycle progression. It can directly phosphorylate H2AX independent of ATM and indirectly modulate the phosphorylation level of γH2AX via the Akt/GSK3 β signal pathway.