The life and death of DNA-PK

Spencer J. Collis, Theodore L. DeWeese, Penelope A. Jeggo, Antony R. Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Double-strand breaks (DSBs) arise endogenously during normal cellular processes and exogenously by genotoxic agents such as ionizing radiation (IR). DSBs are one of the most severe types of DNA damage, which if left unrepaired are lethal to the cell. Several different DNA repair pathways combat DSBs, with nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) being one of the most important in mammalian cells. Competent NHEJ catalyses repair of DSBs by joining together and ligating two free DNA ends of little homology (microhomology) or DNA ends of no homology. The core components of mammalian NHEJ are the catalytic subunit of DNA protein kinase (DNA-PKcs), Ku subunits Ku70 and KuBO, Artemis, XRCC4 and DNA ligase IV. DNA-PK is a nuclear serine/threonine protein kinase that comprises a catalytic subunit (DNA-PKcs), with the Ku subunits acting as the regulatory element. It has been proposed that DNA-PK is a molecular sensor for DNA damage that enhances the signal via phosphorylation of many downstream targets. The crucial role of DNA-PK in the repair of DSBs is highlighted by the hypersensitivity of DNA-PK-/- mice to IR and the high levels of unrepaired DSBs after genotoxic insult. Recently, DNA-PK has emerged as a suitable genetic target for molecular therapeutics such as siRNA, antisense and novel inhibitory small molecules. This review encompasses the recent literature regarding the role of DNA-PK in the protection of genomic stability and focuses on how this knowledge has aided the development of specific DNA-PK inhibitors, via both small molecule and directed molecular targeting techniques. This review promotes the inhibition of DNA-PK as a valid approach to enhance the tumor-cell-killing effects of treatments such as IR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)949-961
Number of pages13
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 3 2005


  • DNA-PK
  • Function
  • Gene therapy
  • Molecular targeting
  • Protein interactions
  • Radiosensitization
  • Regulation
  • Small molecule inhibitors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research


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