The radiation biology of boron neutron capture therapy

Radiat Res. 1999 Jan;151(1):1-18.


Boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT) is a targeted radiation therapy that significantly increases the therapeutic ratio relative to conventional radiotherapeutic modalities. BNCT is a binary approach: A boron-10 (10B)-labeled compound is administered that delivers high concentrations of 10B to the target tumor relative to surrounding normal tissues. This is followed by irradiation with thermal neutrons or epithermal neutrons which become thermalized at depth in tissues. The short range (5-9 microm) of the alpha and 7Li particles released from the 10B(n,alpha)7Li neutron capture reaction make the microdistribution of 10B of critical importance in therapy. The radiation field in tissues during BNCT consists of a mixture of components with differing LET characteristics. Studies have been carried out in both normal and neoplastic tissues to characterize the relative biological effectiveness of each radiation component. The distribution patterns and radiobiological characteristics of the two 10B delivery agents in current clinical use, the amino acid p-boronophenylalanine (BPA) and the sulfhydryl borane (BSH), have been evaluated in a range of normal tissues and tumor types. Considered overall, BSH-mediated BNCT elicits proportionately less damage to normal tissue than does BNCT mediated with BPA. However, BPA exhibits superior in vivo tumor targeting and has proven much more effective in the treatment of brain tumors in rats. In terms of fractionation effects, boron neutron capture irradiation modalities are comparable with other high-LET radiation modalities such as fast-neutron therapy. There was no appreciable advantage in increasing the number of daily fractions of thermal neutrons beyond two with regard to sparing of normal tissue in the rat spinal cord model. The experimental studies described in this review constitute the radiobiological basis for the new BNCT clinical trials for glioblastoma at Brookhaven National Laboratory, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and at the High Flux Reactor, Petten, The Netherlands. The radiobiology of experimental and clinical BNCT is discussed in detail.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Boron Neutron Capture Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Linear Energy Transfer
  • Radiobiology
  • Rats