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Title: The role of DNA polymerase eta in determining cellular responses to chemo-radiation treatment
Author: Nicolay, N. H.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2746 9378
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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DNA polymerase η (pol η), a crucial component of the cellular translesion synthesis pathway, allows cells to bypass and thereby temporarily tolerate DNA damage. Inherited deficiency of pol η, as reported in the variant form of xeroderma pigmentosum, predisposes to UV light-induced skin cancers. To date, pol η is the only DNA polymerase shown to exhibit a causal link to the formation of cancers in humans. However, the role of pol η in the cellular response to forms of DNA damage other than UV-induced lesions is largely unknown. In the first part of this thesis, it is shown that cells deficient in pol η are resistant to ionising radiation. Deficiency in the polymerase was associated with accumulation of cells in S phase of the cell cycle. Cells deficient in pol η demonstrated increased homologous recombination-directed repair of DNA double-strand breaks created by ionising radiation, and depletion of the homologous recombination protein X-ray repair cross-complementing protein 3 (XRCC3), abrogated the radioresistance observed in pol η-deficient cells compared to pol η-complemented cells. These findings suggest that homologous recombination mediates S phase-dependent radioresistance associated with pol η-deficiency. In the second part of this thesis, it is shown that pol η-deficient cells have increased sensitivity to the chemotherapeutic compound, oxaliplatin, compared to pol η-deficient expressing cells, but not to the drug 5-fluorouracil that is usually administered in combination with oxaliplatin in the clinical setting. Despite the importance of pol η for cellular survival following exposure to oxaliplatin, the drug did not upregulate the enzyme after either short-term or long-term exposure. Inhibition of pol η activity by siRNA-mediated knockdown of the protein sensitised cells to oxaliplatin treatment, and partially reversed acquired resistance in oxaliplatin-resistant tumour cell lines. These data suggest that pol η is an interesting target whose function can potentially be interfered with to optimise oxaliplatin-based chemotherapy. In the third part of this thesis, clinical samples obtained from oesophageal cancer patients before and after treatment with oxaliplatin-containing chemotherapy were analysed for POLH mRNA levels encoding pol η protein. Malignant tissue specimens obtained before treatment demonstrated a significantly higher level of POLH mRNA than matched normal oesophageal tissue samples. Contrary to the preclinical data, high POLH mRNA expression before therapy was shown to correlate with increased overall and disease-free survival of the patient cohort in the clinical trial. Additionally, patients with high POLH mRNA-expressing cancers had better therapeutic responses (measured by PET-CT) to oxaliplatin-based treatment than those with low levels. These data suggest that POLH mRNA expression should be tested as a biomarker to predict survival and therapeutic responses in oesophageal cancer patients treated with oxaliplatin-containing chemotherapy.
Supervisor: Sharma, Ricky; Helleday, Thomas Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: DNA damage signalling ; DNA polymerase ; radiation ; oxaliplatin