Dissection of DNA damage and repair pathways in live cells by femtosecond laser microirradiation and free-electron modeling

Michael Schmalz, Xiao-Xuan Liang, Ines Wieser, Caroline Gruschel, Lukas Muskalla, Martin Thomas Stöckl, Roland Nitschke, Norbert Linz, Alfred Leitenstorfer, Alfred Vogel, Elisa Ferrando-May


Understanding and predicting the outcome of the interaction of light with DNA has a significant impact on the study of DNA repair and radiotherapy. We report on a combination of femtosecond pulsed laser microirradiation at different wavelengths, quantitative imaging, and numerical modeling that yields a comprehensive picture of photon-mediated and free-electron-mediated DNA damage pathways in live cells. Laser irradiation was performed under highly standardized conditions at four wavelengths between 515 nm and 1,030 nm, enabling to study two-photon photochemical and free-electron-mediated DNA damage in situ. We quantitatively assessed cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer (CPD) and γH2AX-specific immunofluorescence signals to calibrate the damage threshold dose at these wavelengths and performed a comparative analysis of the recruitment of DNA repair factors xeroderma pigmentosum complementation group C (XPC) and Nijmegen breakage syndrome 1 (Nbs1). Our results show that two-photon-induced photochemical CPD generation dominates at 515 nm, while electron-mediated damage dominates at wavelengths ≥620 nm. The recruitment analysis revealed a cross talk between nucleotide excision and homologous recombination DNA repair pathways at 515 nm. Numerical simulations predicted electron densities and electron energy spectra, which govern the yield functions of a variety of direct electron-mediated DNA damage pathways and of indirect damage by •OH radicals resulting from laser and electron interactions with water. Combining these data with information on free electron–DNA interactions gained in artificial systems, we provide a conceptual framework for the interpretation of the wavelength dependence of laser-induced DNA damage that may guide the selection of irradiation parameters in studies and applications that require the selective induction of DNA lesions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2220132120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number25
Pages (from-to)e2220132120
Publication statusPublished - 20.06.2023

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Biomedical Engineering

DFG Research Classification Scheme

  • 308-01 Optics, Quantum Optics, Atoms, Molecules, Plasmas

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