Chronic exposure of mammals to low dose-rates of ionizing radiation affects proliferating cell systems as a function of both dose-rate and the total dose accumulated. The lower the dose-rate the higher needs to be the total dose for a deterministic effect, i.e., tissue reaction to appear. Stem cells provide for proliferating, maturing and functional cells. Stem cells usually are particularly radiosensitive and damage to them may propagate to cause failure of functional cells. The paper revisits 1) medical histories with emphasis on the hemopoietic system of the victims of ten accidental chronic radiation exposures, 2) published hematological findings of long-term chronically gamma-irradiated rodents, and 3) such findings in dogs chronically exposed in large life-span studies. The data are consistent with the hypothesis that hemopoietic stem and early progenitor cells have the capacity to tolerate and adapt to being repetitively hit by energy deposition events. The data are compatible with the "injured stem cell hypothesis", stating that radiation-injured stem cells, depending on dose-rate, may continue to deliver clones of functional cells that maintain homeostasis of hemopoiesis throughout life. Further studies perhaps on separated hemopoietic stem cells may unravel the molecular-biology mechanisms causing radiation tolerance and adaptation.
Keywords: chronic irradiation; hemopoietic tolerance; stem cell adaptation.