Chromosomes of older humans are more prone to aminopterine-induced breakage
We have adopted a simplified version of the "cell hybrid cotransfer method" to test the hypothesis that human lymphocytes derived from elderly individuals have a higher chromosome instability. Peripheral blood lymphocytes from "old" male individuals and "young" controls were fused with a Chinese hamster cell line (CHO-YH21), yielding 10 HAT-resistant rodent-human clones from the old propositi and 22 from the young controls (HAT = hypoxanthine/aminopterin/thymidine). Both series of hybrid clones were analyzed with respect to the retention of the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase and the surface antigen MIC2 identified by monoclonal antibody 12E7, two human X chromosome-linked markers located at opposite ends of the X chromosome. Cell hybrid clones with an X chromosome from a young control retained both markers in about 70% of the cells. In contrast, cell hybrid clones with an X chromosome from an old donor retained the MIC2 marker in only 30% of their cells. Slot-blot hybridization studies have established that the observed loss of the MIC2 marker is due to loss of the coding gene, not to suppression of its expression. Similar hybridization studies with molecular probes specific for other regions of the X chromosome suggest preferential chromosomal breakage sites. T lymphocytes from old donors were also found to have an LD50 for aminopterine significantly lower than the concentration of this drug in the HAT medium used to grow the hybrids, suggesting that the higher level of gene loss observed in the X chromosomes from old donors may be directly related to their increased sensitivity to the clastogenic effect of aminopterine. We speculate that the higher rate of chromosomal breakage and of marker loss observed along the "old-age" X chromosomes could be the result of "molecular scars" accumulated with aging at sites of constitutive chromosomal fragility.