Metabolic viability based high throughput assays like MTT and MTS are widely used in assessing the cell viability. However, alteration in both mitochondrial content and metabolism can influence the metabolic viability of cells and radiation is a potential mitochondrial biogenesis inducer. Therefore, we tested if MTT assay is a true measure of radiation induced cell death in widely used cell lines. Radiation induced cellular growth inhibition was performed by enumerating cell numbers and metabolic viability using MTT assay at 24 and 48 hours (hrs) after exposure. The extent of radiation induced reduction in cell number was found to be larger than the decrease in MTT reduction in all the cell lines tested. We demonstrated that radiation induces PGC-1α and TFAM to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis leading to increased levels of SDH-A and enhanced metabolic viability. Radiation induced disturbance in calcium (Ca2+) homeostasis also plays a crucial role by making the mitochondria hyperactive. These findings suggest that radiation induces mitochondrial biogenesis and hyperactivation leading to increased metabolic viability and MTT reduction. Therefore, conclusions drawn on radiation induced growth inhibition based on metabolic viability assays are likely to be erroneous as it may not correlate with growth inhibition and/or loss of clonogenic survival.
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