A sense of danger from radiation

Radiat Res. 2004 Jul;162(1):1-19. doi: 10.1667/rr3196.


Tissue damage caused by exposure to pathogens, chemicals and physical agents such as ionizing radiation triggers production of generic "danger" signals that mobilize the innate and acquired immune system to deal with the intrusion and effect tissue repair with the goal of maintaining the integrity of the tissue and the body. Ionizing radiation appears to do the same, but less is known about the role of "danger" signals in tissue responses to this agent. This review deals with the nature of putative "danger" signals that may be generated by exposure to ionizing radiation and their significance. There are a number of potential consequences of "danger" signaling in response to radiation exposure. "Danger" signals could mediate the pathogenesis of, or recovery from, radiation damage. They could alter intrinsic cellular radiosensitivity or initiate radioadaptive responses to subsequent exposure. They may spread outside the locally damaged site and mediate bystander or "out-of-field" radiation effects. Finally, an important aspect of classical "danger" signals is that they link initial nonspecific immune responses in a pathological site to the development of specific adaptive immunity. Interestingly, in the case of radiation, there is little evidence that "danger" signals efficiently translate radiation-induced tumor cell death into the generation of tumor-specific immunity or normal tissue damage into autoimmunity. The suggestion is that radiation-induced "danger" signals may be inadequate in this respect or that radiation interferes with the generation of specific immunity. There are many issues that need to be resolved regarding "danger" signaling after exposure to ionizing radiation. Evidence of their importance is, in some areas, scant, but the issues are worthy of consideration, if for no other reason than that manipulation of these pathways has the potential to improve the therapeutic benefit of radiation therapy. This article focuses on how normal tissues and tumors sense and respond to danger from ionizing radiation, on the nature of the signals that are sent, and on the impact on the eventual consequences of exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / radiation effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Humans
  • Immunity / radiation effects
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Radiation Injuries / etiology*
  • Radiation Tolerance
  • Radiotherapy