Radiation-induced cell death mechanisms

Tumour Biol. 2010 Aug;31(4):363-72. doi: 10.1007/s13277-010-0042-8. Epub 2010 May 20.


The main goal when treating malignancies with radiation therapy is to deprive tumor cells of their reproductive potential. One approach to achieve this is by inducing tumor cell apoptosis. Accumulating evidences suggest that induction of apoptosis alone is insufficient to account for the therapeutic effect of radiotherapy. It has become obvious in the last few years that inhibition of the proliferative capacity of malignant cells following irradiation, especially with solid tumors, can occur via alternative cell death modalities or permanent cell cycle arrests, i.e., senescence. In this review, apoptosis and mitotic catastrophe, the two major cell deaths induced by radiation, are described and dissected in terms of activating mechanisms. Furthermore, treatment-induced senescence and its relevance for the outcome of radiotherapy of cancer will be discussed. The importance of p53 for the induction and execution of these different types of cell deaths is highlighted. The efficiency of radiotherapy and radioimmunotherapy has much to gain by understanding the cell death mechanisms that are induced in tumor cells following irradiation. Strategies to use specific inhibitors that will manipulate key molecules in these pathways in combination with radiation might potentiate therapy and enhance tumor cell kill.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / radiation effects*
  • Cellular Senescence / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Mitosis / radiation effects*
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / physiology


  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53