Adaptive responses are induced by stress such as X radiation and result in a lower than expected biological response. Two-dose adaptive response experiments typically involve a low priming dose followed by a subsequent high radiation dose. Here, we used a sensitive in vivo chromosomal inversion assay to demonstrate for the first time an adaptive response when a low dose (0.01-1 mGy) was given several hours after a high 1000-mGy radiation dose. The adaptive responses in this study were of similar magnitude to the two-dose adaptive responses previously observed in this test system when the low dose was given first. A chromosomal inversion adaptive response was also induced by two 1000-mGy doses and when a 1-mGy dose was preceded or followed by a dose of 0.01 mGy, but not by two 4000-mGy doses. This is also the first example of an adaptive response when both doses are low. Our data agree with previous reports of an on-off mechanism of adaptive response. The induction of an adaptive response by a low dose after a high damaging dose provides evidence that the mechanisms underlying radiation adaptive responses are not due to prevention of damage induced by the high dose but to modulation of the cellular response to this damage.