J Cancer 2017; 8(19):4048-4056. doi:10.7150/jca.21338

Research Paper

The PARP-1 inhibitor Olaparib suppresses BRCA1 protein levels, increases apoptosis and causes radiation hypersensitivity in BRCA1+/- lymphoblastoid cells

Emma C. Bourton1*, Pia-Amata Ahorner1*, Piers N. Plowman2, Sheba Adam Zahir1, Hussein Al-Ali1, Christopher N. Parris3✉

1. Division of Biosciences, Department of Life Sciences, College of Health and Life Sciences, Brunel University, Uxbridge Middlesex, UB8 3PH, UK.
2. Department of Radiotherapy, St. Bartholomew's Hospital, West Smithfield, London, EC1A 7BE, UK.
3. Department of Biomedical and Forensic Science, Faculty of Science and Technology, Anglia Ruskin University, East Road Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB1 1PT, UK.
*ECB and PA-A contributed equally to this work.


The use of polyADPribose polymerase inhibitors in cancer treatment provides a unique opportunity to target DNA repair processes in cancer cells while leaving normal tissue intact. The PARP-1 enzyme repairs DNA single strand breaks (SSB). Therefore PARP-1 inhibition in BRCA1 negative cancers results in the formation of cytotoxic DNA double strand breaks (DSB) causing synthetic lethality. The use of PARP1 inhibitors is gaining momentum in the treatment of a variety of tumours with BRCA1 involvement including breast, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancer.

Our previous work showed that the PARP-1 inhibitor Olaparib causes both hypersensitivity of BRCA1+/- cells following exposure to gamma radiation due to the persistence of DNA strand breaks in cells, measured by the DNA damage biomarker γ-H2AX. Therefore dual treatment of cancers with radiotherapy and PARP1 inhibition may lead to cases of increased normal tissue toxicity in cancer patients.

In this study we exposed two normal lymphoblastoid cell lines and three heterozygous BRCA1 lymphoblastoid cell lines to the PARP-1 inhibitor Olaparib and gamma radiation and after measured BRCA1 protein expression and apoptosis levels following treatment. BRCA1 protein foci analysis was performed on cells exposed to 2 Gy radiation in the presence or absence of 5 μM Olaparib. Using immunofluorescence and imaging flow cytometry, foci were measured in untreated cells and at 0.5, 3, 5 and 24 hours post-irradiation. Exposing normal and BRCA1+/- cells to Olaparib followed by gamma radiation results in a dramatic change in BRCA1 protein foci expression, with a significant reduction in BRCA1 protein expression observed in the heterozygote cells, together with an increase in apoptosis levels in these cells.

In conclusion, combining PARP1 inhibitors with radiotherapy in treating of BRCA1-related cancers has clinical relevance, however this study and our previous publications serve to highlight the potential problems of increased side effects in these scenarios.

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How to cite this article:
Bourton EC, Ahorner PA, Plowman PN, Zahir SA, Al-Ali H, Parris CN. The PARP-1 inhibitor Olaparib suppresses BRCA1 protein levels, increases apoptosis and causes radiation hypersensitivity in BRCA1+/- lymphoblastoid cells. J Cancer 2017; 8(19):4048-4056. doi:10.7150/jca.21338. Available from http://www.jcancer.org/v08p4048.htm