Radiation-induced bystander effects and the DNA paradigm: an "out of field" perspective

Mutat Res. 2006 May 11;597(1-2):5-10. doi: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2005.10.011. Epub 2006 Jan 18.


Over the past 20 years there has been increasing evidence that cells and the progeny of cells surviving a very low dose of ionizing radiation [micro-mGy] can exhibit a wide range of non-monotonic effects such as adaptive responses, low dose hypersensitivity and other delayed effects. These effects are inconsistent with the expected dose-response, when based on extrapolation of high dose data and cast doubt on the reliability of extrapolating from high dose data to predict low dose effects. Recently the cause of many of these effects has been tentatively ascribed to so-called "bystander effects". These are effects that occur in cells not directly hit by an ionizing track but which are influenced by signals from irradiated cells and are thus highly relevant in situations where the dose is very low. Not all bystander effects may be deleterious although most endpoints measured involve cell damage or death. In this commentary, we consider how these effects impact the historical central dogma of radiobiology and radiation protection, which is that DNA double strand breaks are the primary radiation-induced lesion which can be quantifiably related to received dose and which determine the probability that a cancer will result from a radiation exposure. We explore the low dose issues and the evidence and conclude that in the very low dose region, the primary determinant of radiation exposure outcome is the genetic and epigenetic background of the individual and not solely the dose. What this does is to dissociate dose from effect as a quantitative relationship, but it does not necessarily mean that the effect is ultimately unrelated to DNA damage. The fundamental thesis we present is that at low doses fundamentally different mechanisms underlie radiation action and that at these doses, effect is not quantitatively related to dose.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Survival / radiation effects
  • DNA / radiation effects*
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA Repair
  • Genomic Instability
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Radiobiology


  • DNA