The mechanism underlying the carcinogenic potential of α radiation is not fully understood, considering that cell inactivation (e.g., mitotic cell death) as a main consequence of exposure efficiently counteracts the spreading of heritable DNA damage. The aim of this study is to improve our understanding of the effectiveness of α particles in inducing different types of chromosomal aberrations, to determine the respective values of the relative biological effectiveness (RBE) and to interpret the results with respect to exposure risk. Human peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs) from a single donor were exposed ex vivo to doses of 0-6 Gy X rays or 0-2 Gy α particles. Cells were harvested at two different times after irradiation to account for the mitotic delay of heavily damaged cells, which is known to occur after exposure to high-LET radiation (including α particles). Analysis of the kinetics of cells reaching first or second (and higher) mitosis after irradiation and aberration data obtained by the multiplex fluorescence in situ hybridization (mFISH) technique are used to determine of the cytogenetic risk, i.e., the probability for transmissible aberrations in surviving lymphocytes. The analysis shows that the cytogenetic risk after α exposure is lower than after X rays. This indicates that the actually observed higher carcinogenic effect of α radiation is likely to stem from small scale mutations that are induced effectively by high-LET radiation but cannot be resolved by mFISH analysis.
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