Single-stranded DNA has been speculated to be the initial signal in the DNA damage signaling pathway. We showed that introduction of single-stranded DNA with diverse sequences into mammalian cells induced DNA damage as well as apoptosis signals. Like DNA damaging agents, single-stranded DNA up-regulated p53 and activated the nuclear kinase ataxia telangiectasia mutant (ATM) as evidenced by phosphorylation of histone 2AX, an endogenous ATM substrate. Single-stranded DNA also triggered apoptosis as evidenced by the formation of caspase-dependent chromosomal DNA strand breaks, cytochrome c release, and increase in reactive oxygen species production. Moreover, single-stranded DNA-induced apoptosis was reduced significantly in p53 null cells and in cells treated with ATM small interfering RNA. These results suggest that single-stranded DNA may act upstream of ATM/p53 in DNA damage signaling.
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