We simulated the irradiation of human fibroblasts with γ rays, protons and helium, carbon and iron ions at a fixed dose of 5 Gy. The simulations were performed with the biophysical Monte Carlo code PARTRAC. From the output of the code, containing in particular the genomic positions of the radiation-induced DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), we obtained the DNA fragmentation spectra. Very small fragments, in particular those related to “complex lesions” (few tens of base pairs), are probably very important for the late cellular consequences, but their detection is not possible with the common experimental techniques. We paid special attention to the differences among the various ions in the production of these very small fragments; in particular, we compared the fragmentation spectra for ions of the same specific energy and for ions of the same LET (linear energy transfer). As found previously for iron ions, we found that the RBE (relative biological effectiveness) for DSB production was considerably higher than 1 for all high-LET radiations considered. This is at variance with the results obtainable from experimental data, and it is due to the ability to count the contribution of small fragments. It should be noted that for a given LET this RBE decreases with increasing ion charge, due mainly to the increasing mean energy of secondary electrons. A precise quantification of the DNA initial damage can be of great importance for both radiation protection, particularly in open-space long-term manned missions, and hadrontherapy.
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