Biological in-vivo measurement of dose distribution in patients' lymphocytes by gamma-H2AX immunofluorescence staining: 3D conformal- vs. step-and-shoot IMRT of the prostate gland

Radiat Oncol. 2011 Jun 7;6:62. doi: 10.1186/1748-717X-6-62.


Background: Different radiation-techniques in treating local staged prostate cancer differ in their dose- distribution. Physical phantom measurements indicate that for 3D, less healthy tissue is exposed to a relatively higher dose compared to SSIMRT. The purpose is to substantiate a dose distribution in lymphocytes in-vivo and to discuss the possibility of comparing it to the physical model of total body dose distribution.

Methods: For each technique (3D and SSIMRT), blood was taken from 20 patients before and 10 min after their first fraction of radiotherapy. The isolated leukocytes were fixed 2 hours after radiation. DNA double-strand breaks (DSB) in lymphocytes' nuclei were stained immunocytochemically using the gamma-H2AX protein. Gamma-H2AX foci inside each nucleus were counted in 300 irradiated as well as 50 non-irradiated lymphocytes per patient. In addition, lymphocytes of 5 volunteer subjects were irradiated externally at different doses and processed under same conditions as the patients' lymphocytes in order to generate a calibration-line. This calibration-line assigns dose-value to mean number of gamma-H2AX foci/ nucleus. So the dose distributions in patients' lymphocytes were determined regarding to the gamma-H2AX foci distribution. With this information a cumulative dose-lymphocyte-histogram (DLH) was generated. Visualized distribution of gamma-H2AX foci, correspondingly dose per nucleus, was compared to the technical dose-volume-histogram (DVH), related to the whole body-volume.

Results: Measured in-vivo (DLH) and according to the physical treatment-planning (DVH), more lymphocytes resulted with low-dose exposure (< 20% of the applied dose) and significantly fewer lymphocytes with middle-dose exposure (30%-60%) during Step-and-Shoot-IMRT, compared to conventional 3D conformal radiotherapy. The high-dose exposure (> 80%) was equal in both radiation techniques. The mean number of gamma-H2AX foci per lymphocyte was 0.49 (3D) and 0.47 (SSIMRT) without significant difference.

Conclusions: In-vivo measurement of the dose distribution within patients' lymphocytes can be performed by detecting gamma-H2AX foci. In case of 3D and SSIMRT, the results of this method correlate with the physical calculated total body dose-distribution, but cannot be interpreted unrestrictedly due to the blood circulation. One possible application of the present method could be in radiation-protection for in-vivo dose estimation after accidental exposure to radiation.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cell Nucleus / radiation effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Leukocytes / radiation effects
  • Lymphocytes / radiation effects*
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Radiotherapy, Conformal / methods*
  • Regression Analysis


  • H2AX protein, human
  • Histones