Ionizing radiation (IR) is known to be a cause of telomere dysfunction in tumor cells; however, very few studies have investigated X-ray-related changes in telomere length and the telomerase activity in normal human cells, such as umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). The loss of a few hundred base pairs from a shortened telomere has been shown to be important with respect to cellular senescence, although it may not be detected according to traditional mean telomere length [assessed as the terminal restriction fragment (TRF)] analyses. In the present study, a continuous time window from irradiation was selected to examine changes in the telomere length, including the mean TRF length, percentage of the telomere length, telomerase activity, apoptotic rate, and survival rate in HUVECs from the first day to the fourth day after the administration of a 0.5-Gy dose of irradiation. The mean TRF length in the irradiated HUVECs showed shorter telomere length in first 3 days, but they were not statistically significant. On the other hand, according to the percentage analysis of the telomere length, a decreasing tendency was noted in the longer telomere lengths (9.4-4.4 kb), with a significant increase in the shortest telomeres (4.4-2.3 kb) among the irradiated cells versus the controls from the first day to the third after irradiation; no significant differences were noted on the fourth day. These results suggest that the shortest telomeres are sensitive to the late stage of radiation damage. The proliferation of irradiated cells was suppressed after IR in contrast to the non-irradiated cells. The apoptotic rate was elevated initially both in IR- and non-IR-cells, but that of IR-cells was maintained at an elevated level thereafter in contrast to that of non-IR-cells decreasing promptly. Therefore, a 0.5-Gy dose of IR induces persistent apoptosis leading to an apparent growth arrest of the normal HUVECs.
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