An adaptive response is a response to a stress such as radiation exposure that results in a lower than expected biological response. We describe an adaptive response to X radiation in mouse prostate using the pKZ1 chromosomal inversion assay. pKZ1 mice were treated with a priming dose of 0.001, 0.01, 1 or 10 mGy followed 4 h later by a 1000-mGy challenge dose. All priming doses caused a similar reduction in inversions compared to the 1000-mGy group, supporting the hypothesis that the adaptive response is the result of an on/off mechanism. The adaptive response was induced by a priming dose of 0.001 mGy, which is three orders of magnitude lower than has been reported previously. The adaptive responses completely protected against the inversions that would have been induced by a single 1000-mGy dose as well as against a proportion of spontaneous background inversions. The distribution of inversions across prostate gland cross sections after priming plus challenge irradiation suggested that adaptive responses were predominantly due to reduced low-dose radiation-induced inversions rather than to reduced high-dose radiation-induced inversions. This study used radiation doses relevant to human exposure.