High energy radiation, such as X-rays, $$\gamma$$-rays, and $$\beta$$ particles (or electrons) are powerful mutagens. Since they can change the number of electrons on an atom, converting a compound to an ionized form, they are referred to as ionizing radiation. They can cause a number of chemical changes in DNA, including directly break phosphodiester backbone of DNA, leading to deletions. Ionizing radiation can also break open the imidazole ring of purines. Subsequent removal of the damaged purine from DNA by a glycosylase generates an apurinic site.

Figure $$\PageIndex{1}$$: Formation of thymine dimer lesion in DNA. The photon causes two consecutive bases on one strand to bind together, destroying the normal base-pairing double-strand structure in that area. Ultraviolet (UV) photons harm the DNA molecules of living organisms in different ways. In one common damage event, adjacent bases bond with each other, instead of across the “ladder.” This makes a bulge, and the distorted DNA molecule does not function properly. Image used with permission (Public Domain; Master Uegly).

Figure $$\PageIndex{2}$$: Pyrimidine dimers formed by UV radiation, illustrated for adjacent thymidylates on one strand of the DNA. (A) Formation of a covalent bond between the C atoms at position 5 of each pyrimidine and between the C atoms at position 6 of each pyrimidine makes a cyclobutane ring connecting the two pyrimidines. The bases are stacked over each other, held in place by the cyclobutane ring. The C-C bonds between the pyrimidines are exaggerated in this drawing so that the pyrimidine ring is visible. (B) Another photoproduct is made by forming a bond between the C atom at position 6 of one pyrimidine and position 4 of the adjacent pyrimidine, with loss of the O previously attached at position 4. Image used with permission (Public Domain; Master Uegly).
Exercise $$\PageIndex{1}$$