Biochemical alterations in human cells irradiated with alpha particles delivered by macro- or microbeams

Radiat Res. 2007 May;167(5):551-62. doi: 10.1667/RR0684.1.


Irradiation of individual cell nuclei with charged-particle microbeams requires accurate identification and localization of cells using Hoechst staining and UV illumination before computer-monitored localization of each cell. Using Fourier-transform infrared microspectroscopy (FT-IRM), we investigated whether the experimental conditions used for cell recognition induce cellular changes prior to irradiation and compared biochemical changes and DNA damage after targeted and nontargeted irradiation with alpha particles delivered by macro- or microbeams, using gamma radiation as a reference. Molecular damage in single HaCaT cells was studied by means of FT-IRM and comet assay (Gault et al., Int. J. Radiat. Biol. 81, 767-779, 2005). Hoechst 33342-stained HaCaT cells were exposed to single doses of 2 Gy (239)Pu alpha particles from a broad-beam irradiator, five impacted alpha particles from a microbeam irradiator, or 6 Gy gamma rays from (137)Cs, each of which resulted in about 5% clonogenic survival. FT-IRM of control cells indicated that Hoechst binding to nuclear DNA induced subtle changes in DNA conformation, and its excitation under UV illumination induced a dramatic shift of the DNA conformation from A to B as well as major DNA damage as measured by the comet assay. Comparison of the FT-IRM spectra of cells exposed to gamma rays or alpha particles specifically targeted to the nucleus, alpha particles from a broad-beam irradiator revealed spectral changes corresponding to all changes in constitutive bases in nucleic acids, suggesting oxidative damage in these bases, as well as structural damage in the deoxyribose-phosphate backbone of DNA and the osidic structure of nucleic acids. Concomitantly, spectral changes specific to protein suggested structural modifications. Striking differences in IR spectra between targeted microbeam- and nontargeted macrobeam-irradiated cells indicated greater residual unrepaired or misrepaired damage after microbeam irradiation. This was confirmed by the comet assay data. These results show that FT-IRM, together with the comet assay, is useful for assessing direct radiation-induced damage to nucleic acids and proteins in single cells and for investigating the effects of radiation quality. Significantly, FT-IRM revealed that Hoechst 33342 binding to DNA and exposure to UV light induce a dramatic change in DNA conformation as well as DNA damage. These findings suggest that fluorochrome staining should be avoided in studies of ionizing radiation-induced bystander effects based on charged-particle microbeam irradiation. An alternative cell nucleus recognition system that avoids nuclear matrix damage and its possible contribution to propagation of biological effects from irradiated cells to neighboring nontargeted cells needs to be developed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alpha Particles / adverse effects*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Nucleus / radiation effects
  • Cell Survival / radiation effects
  • Comet Assay
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Humans
  • Spectrum Analysis