AIM: To determine the DNA binding activity and protein levels of the Ku70/80 heterodimer, the functional mediator of the NHEJ activity, in human colorectal carcinogenesis. METHODS: The Ku70/80 DNA-binding activity was determined by electrophoretic mobility shift assays in 20 colon adenoma and 15 colorectal cancer samples as well as matched normal colonic tissues. Nuclear and cytoplasmic protein expression was determined by immunohistochemistry and Western blot analysis. RESULTS: A statistically significant difference was found in both adenomas and carcinomas as compared to matched normal colonic mucosa (P < 0.00). However, changes in binding activity were not homogenous with approximately 50% of the tumors showing a clear increase in the binding activity, 30% displaying a modest increase and 15% showing a decrease of the activity. Tumors, with increased DNA-binding activity, also showed a statistically significant increase in Ku70 and Ku86 nuclear expression, as determined by Western blot and immunohistochemical analyses (P < 0.001). Cytoplasmic protein expression was found in pathological samples, but not in normal tissues either from tumor patients or from healthy subjects. CONCLUSION: Overall, our DNA-binding activity and protein level are consistent with a substantial activation of the NHEJ pathway in colorectal tumors. Since the NHEJ is an error prone mechanism, its abnormal activation can result in chromosomal instability and ultimately lead to tumorigenesis.
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