Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Pharmacology & Toxicology

First Advisor

David A. Gewirtz


Radiotherapy continues to be a primary modality in the treatment of cancer. DNA damage induced by radiation can promote apoptosis as well as both autophagy and senescence, where autophagy and senescence can theoretically function to prolong tumor survival. A primary aim of this work was to investigate the hypothesis that autophagy and/or senescence could be permissive for DNA repair, thereby facilitating tumor cell recovery from radiation-induced growth arrest and/or cell death. In addition, studies were designed to elucidate the involvement of autophagy and senescence in radiation sensitization by PARP inhibitors and the re-emergence of a proliferating tumor cell population. In the context of this work, the relationship between radiation-induced autophagy and senescence was also determined. Studies were performed using DNA repair proficient HCT116 colon carcinoma cells and a repair deficient Ligase IV (-/-) isogenic cell line. Irradiation promoted a parallel induction of autophagy and senescence that was strongly correlated with the extent of persistent H2AX phosphorylation in both cell lines; however inhibition of autophagy failed to suppress senescence, indicating that the two responses were dissociable. Irradiation resulted in a transient arrest in the HCT116 cells while arrest was prolonged in the Ligase IV (-/-) cells; however, both cell lines ultimately recovered proliferative function, which may reflect maintenance of DNA repair capacity. The PARP inhibitors (Olaparib) and (Niraparib) increased the extent of persistent DNA damage induced by radiation as well as the extent of both autophagy and senescence; neither cell line underwent significant apoptosis by radiation alone or in the presence of the PARP inhibitors. Inhibition of autophagy failed to attenuate radiation sensitization, indicating that autophagy was not involved in the action of the PARP inhibitors. As with radiation alone, despite sensitization by PARP inhibition, proliferative recovery was evident within a period of 10-20 days. While inhibition of DNA repair via PARP inhibition may initially sensitize tumor cells to radiation via the promotion of senescence, this strategy does not appear to interfere with proliferative recovery, which could ultimately contribute to disease recurrence.


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