Over the past 15 years and more, extensive research has been conducted on the responses of biological systems to radiation delivered at a low dose or low dose rate. This research has demonstrated that the molecular-, cellular-, and tissue-level responses are different following low doses than those observed after a single short-term high-dose radiation exposure. Following low-dose exposure, 3 unique responses were observed, these included bystander effects, adaptive protective responses, and genomic instability. Research on the mechanisms of action for each of these observations demonstrates that the molecular and cellular processes activated by low doses of radiation are often related to protective responses, whereas high-dose responses are often associated with extensive damage such as cell killing, tissue disruption, and inflammatory diseases. Thus, the mechanisms of action are unique for low-dose radiation exposure. When the dose is delivered at a low dose rate, the responses typically differ at all levels of biological organization. These data suggest that there must be a dose rate effectiveness factor that is greater than 1 and that the risk following low-dose rate exposure is likely less than that for single short-term exposures. All these observations indicate that using the linear no-threshold model for radiation protection purposes is conservative. Low-dose research therefore supports the current standards and practices. When a nuclear medical procedure is justified, it should be carried out with optimization (lowest radiation dose commensurate with diagnostic or therapeutic outcome).
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