Formation of clustered DNA damage after high-LET irradiation: a review

J Radiat Res. 2008 May;49(3):203-10. doi: 10.1269/jrr.07123. Epub 2008 Apr 15.


Radiation can cause as well as cure cancer. The risk of developing radiation-induced cancer has traditionally been estimated from cancer incidence among survivors of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.(1)) These data provide the best estimate of human cancer risk over the dose range for low linear energy transfer (LET) radiations, such as X- or gamma-rays. The situation of estimating the real biological effects becomes even more difficult in the case of high LET particles encountered in space or as the result of domestic exposure to alpha-particles from radon gas emitters or other radioactive emitters like uranium-238. Complex DNA damage, i.e., the signature of high-LET radiations comprises of closely spaced DNA lesions forming a cluster of DNA damage. The two basic groups of complex DNA damage are double strand breaks (DSBs) and non-DSB oxidative clustered DNA lesions (OCDL). Theoretical analysis and experimental evidence suggest an increased complexity and severity of complex DNA damage with increasing LET (linear energy transfer) and a high mutagenic or carcinogenic potential. Data available on the formation of clustered DNA damage (DSBs and OCDL) by high-LET radiations are often controversial suggesting a variable response to dose and type of radiation. The chemical nature and cellular repair mechanisms of complex DNA damage have been much less characterized than those of isolated DNA lesions like an oxidized base or a single strand break especially in the case of high-LET radiation. This review will focus on the induction of clustered DNA damage by high-LET radiations presenting the earlier and recent relative data.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • DNA Damage / radiation effects*
  • Humans
  • Linear Energy Transfer*