Liu, G. W., Gong, P. S., Zhao, H. G., Wang, Z. C., Gong, S. L. and Cai, L. Effect of Low-Level Radiation on the Death of Male Germ Cells. Radiat. Res. 165, 379–389 (2006).
Hormetic and adaptive responses induced by low-level radiation in hematopoietic and immune systems have been observed, as shown by stimulatory effects on cell growth and resistance to subsequent radiation-induced cytogenetic damage. However, in terms of cell death by apoptosis, the effects of low-level radiation are controversial: Some studies showed decreased apoptosis in response to low-level radiation while others showed increased apoptosis. This controversy may be related to the radiation doses or dose rates and also, more importantly, to the cell types. Testes are one of the most radiosensitive organs. The loss of male germ cells after exposure to ionizing radiation has been attributed to apoptosis. In the present study, the effects of low-level radiation at doses up to 200 mGy on mouse male germ cells in terms of apoptosis and the expression of apoptosis-related proteins were examined at different times after whole-body exposure of mice to low-level radiation. In addition, the effect of pre-exposure to low-level radiation on subsequent cell death induced by high doses of radiation was examined to explore the possibility of low-level radiation-induced adaptive response. The results showed that low-level radiation in the dose range of 25–200 mGy induced significant increases in apoptosis in both spermatogonia and spermatocytes, with the maximal effect at 75 mGy. The increased apoptosis is most likely associated with Trp53 protein expression. Furthermore, 75 mGy low-level radiation given pre-irradiation led to an adaptive response of seminiferous germ cells to subsequent high-level radiation-induced apoptosis. These results suggest that low-level radiation induces increased apoptosis in male germ cells but also induces a significant adaptive response that decreases cell death after a subsequent high-dose irradiation.