One of the main issues of low-energy internal emitters concerns the very short ranges of the beta particles, versus the dimensions of the biological targets. Depending on the chemical form, the radionuclide may be more concentrated either in the cytoplasm or in the nucleus of the target cell. Consequently, since in most cases conventional dosimetry neglects this issue it may overestimate or underestimate the dose to the nucleus and hence the biological effects. To assess the magnitude of these deviations and to provide a realistic evaluation of the localized energy deposition by low-energy internal emitters, the biophysical track-structure code PARTRAC was used to calculate nuclear doses, DNA damage yields and fragmentation patterns for different localizations of radionuclides in human interphase fibroblasts. The nuclides considered in the simulations were tritium and nickel-63, which emit electrons with average energies of 5.7 (range in water of 0.42 μm) and 17 keV (range of 5 μm), respectively, covering both very short and medium ranges of beta-decay products. The simulation results showed that the largest deviations from the conventional dosimetry occur for inhomogeneously distributed short-range emitters. For uniformly distributed radionuclides selectively in the cytoplasm but excluded from the cell nucleus, the dose in the nucleus is 15% of the average dose in the cell in the case of tritium but 64% for nickel-63. Also, the numbers of double-strand breaks (DSBs) and the distributions of DNA fragments depend on subcellular localization of the radionuclides. In the low- and medium-dose regions investigated here, DSB numbers are proportional to the nuclear dose, with about 50 DSB/Gy for both studied nuclides. In addition, DSB numbers on specific chromosomes depend on the radionuclide localization in the cell as well, with chromosomes located more peripherally in the cell nucleus being more damaged by short-ranged emitters in cytoplasm compared with chromosomes located more centrally. These results illustrate the potential for over- or underestimating the risk associated with low-energy emitters, particularly for tritium intake, when their distribution at subcellular levels is not appropriately considered.
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