The potential for irradiated cells to induce biological effects in their unirradiated neighbors (known as the bystander effect) has been observed repeatedly in vitro. However, whether bystander effects occur in vivo under the specific conditions relevant to low-dose radiation protection is still unclear. To test this, the fate of bystander cells in the mouse spleen was examined using an adoptive transfer method designed to replicate the rare, irradiated cells in an organ that might be expected after a low-dose-rate, low-LET radiation exposure. Splenic lymphocytes radiolabeled with low activities of 3H-thymidine were introduced into the spleens of unirradiated recipient mice. In this study, the apoptotic and proliferative response of the neighboring bystander spleen cells was compared to the response of spleen cells in parallel control recipients that received sham-irradiated cells. Neither the local area surrounding lodged radiolabeled cells nor the spleen as a whole showed a change in apoptosis or proliferation either 1 or 3 days after adoptive transfer. Increasing the irradiated cell numbers, increasing the mean 3H-thymidine activity per cell, or exposing cells ex vivo to an acute X-ray dose also had no effect. Possible reasons for the absence of a bystander effect in the spleen under these conditions are discussed.
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