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The effect of ionising radiation on the regulation of gene and protein expression is complex. This study focuses on the translational regulational of the epsilon isoform of protein kinase C by ionising radiation. We found that protein kinase C epsilon is rapidly increased in the human lung adenocarcinoma cell line A549 following irradiation. Western blots showed increased accumulation of this protein at doses as low as 75 cGy after 15 min post irradiation. Maximal induction (11-fold over unirradiated cells) of PKC epsilon occurred at 150 cGy within 1 h after treatment by X-rays in A549 cells. The increased levels of PKC epsilon protein after X-rays does not require de novo protein or RNA synthesis, suggesting that this increase is post-translationally controlled. In contrast to A549 cells PKC epsilon levels in the large cell lung carcinoma cell line NCI H661 were not induced by radiation. In the small cell lung carcinoma cell line NCI N417, PKC epsilon was also not induced but a higher molecular weight PKC epsilon protein, suggestive of phosphorylation, appeared at 2 h after irradiation. The variation in induction or phosphorylation of PKC epsilon by ionising radiation in the cell lines tested in this study suggested that no clear correlation existed between intrinsic radiation sensitivity and PKC epsilon induction. To determine whether PKC epsilon does play a role in cell survival to irradiation, we used the protein kinase inhibitor staurosporin to decrease PKC activity and found that staurosporin sensitised cells to killing by ionising radiation. Pulsed field gel electrophoresis, however, indicated that DNA double-strand break repair was not decreased, suggesting that PKC epsilon is modifying the fidelity of rejoining and not the overall magnitude of repair. The regulation of PKC by ionising radiation will be discussed with respect to the biological consequences of gene induction by DNA damage agents.