Copyright © 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
G-quadruplex (G4) interacting agents are a class of ligands that can bind to and stabilise secondary structures located in genomic G-rich regions such as telomeres. Stabilisation of G4 leads to telomere architecture disruption with a consequent detrimental effect on cell proliferation, which makes these agents good candidates for chemotherapeutic purposes. RHPS4 is one of the most effective and well-studied G4 ligands with a very high specificity for telomeric G4. In this work, we tested the in vitro efficacy of RHPS4 in astrocytoma cell lines, and we evaluated whether RHPS4 can act as a radiosensitising agent by destabilising telomeres. In the first part of the study, the response to RHPS4 was investigated in four human astrocytoma cell lines (U251MG, U87MG, T67 and T70) and in two normal primary fibroblast strains (AG01522 and MRC5). Cell growth reduction, histone H2AX phosphorylation and telomere-induced dysfunctional foci (TIF) formation were markedly higher in astrocytoma cells than in normal fibroblasts, despite the absence of telomere shortening. In the second part of the study, the combined effect of submicromolar concentrations of RHPS4 and X-rays was assessed in the U251MG glioblastoma radioresistant cell line. Long-term growth curves, cell cycle analysis and cell survival experiments, clearly showed the synergistic effect of the combined treatment. Interestingly the effect was greater in cells bearing a higher number of dysfunctional telomeres. DNA double-strand breaks rejoining after irradiation revealed delayed repair kinetics in cells pre-treated with the drug and a synergistic increase in chromosome-type exchanges and telomeric fusions. These findings provide the first evidence that exposure to RHPS4 radiosensitizes astrocytoma cells, suggesting the potential for future therapeutic applications.