PURPOSE:Radioresistance is a significant clinical problem in advanced malignant melanoma and many melanoma cell lines show a radioresistant acute x-ray survival response in vitro. Given that the DNA double strand break is the lesion most closely correlated with x-ray induced cell lethality, differences in the induction and rejoining of these lesions may account for the radioresistance of some human melanoma cell lines. METHODS AND MATERIALS:The above hypothesis was tested using pulsed field gel electrophoresis to measure x-ray induced DNA double strand break induction and rejoining in four human melanoma cell lines: MM138, MM170, MM96-L and HT 144. RESULTS:The MM138, MM170 and MM96-L cell lines were characterized in vitro by low alpha/beta ratios and broad x-ray survival curve shoulders. MM138 and MM170 were the most radioresistant and MM96-L had intermediate sensitivity. In contrast, HT144 was markedly x-ray sensitive, despite retaining a shoulder and like the other lines, having a low alpha/beta ratio. There were no significant differences in DNA double strand break induction between the cell lines, and thus no correlation existed between DNA double strand break induction and radiosensitivity. Consistent with the shoulders on the x-ray survival curves, all four cell lines showed efficient DNA double strand break rejoining. Highly efficient DNA double strand break rejoining could account for the radioresistance of one of the melanoma lines (MM138). For example, MM138 had rejoined 50% of the induced DNA double strand breaks by 5.5 min compared to 13-17 min for the other three cell lines. The development of postirradiation apoptosis was effectively excluded as the cause of the marked radiosensitivity of the HT144 cell line. CONCLUSION:Other factors (such as lesion repair fidelity or differential lesion tolerance) underlie the differences in the intrinsic radiosensitivity between these melanoma cell lines.