The biological risks associated with low-dose-rate (LDR) radiation exposures are not yet well defined. To assess the risk related to DNA damage, we compared the yields of two established biodosimetry end points, γ-H2AX and micronuclei (MNi), in peripheral mouse blood lymphocytes after prolonged in vivo exposure to LDR X rays (0.31 cGy/min) vs. acute high-dose-rate (HDR) exposure (1.03 Gy/min). C57BL/6 mice were total-body irradiated with 320 kVP X rays with doses of 0, 1.1, 2.2 and 4.45 Gy. Residual levels of total γ-H2AX fluorescence in lymphocytes isolated 24 h after the start of irradiation were assessed using indirect immunofluorescence methods. The terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL) assay was used to determine apoptotic cell frequency in lymphocytes sampled at 24 h. Curve fitting analysis suggested that the dose response for γ-H2AX yields after acute exposures could be described by a linear dependence. In contrast, a linear-quadratic dose-response shape was more appropriate for LDR exposure (perhaps reflecting differences in repair time after different LDR doses). Dose-rate sparing effects (P < 0.05) were observed at doses ≤2.2 Gy, such that the acute dose γ-H2AX and TUNEL-positive cell yields were significantly larger than the equivalent LDR yields. At the 4.45 Gy dose there was no difference in γ-H2AX expression between the two dose rates, whereas there was a two- to threefold increase in apoptosis in the LDR samples compared to the equivalent 4.45 Gy acute dose. Micronuclei yields were measured at 24 h and 7 days using the in vitro cytokinesis-blocked micronucleus (CBMN) assay. The results showed that MNi yields increased up to 2.2 Gy with no further increase at 4.45 Gy and with no detectable dose-rate effect across the dose range 24 h or 7 days post exposure. In conclusion, the γ-H2AX biomarker showed higher sensitivity to measure dose-rate effects after low-dose LDR X rays compared to MNi formation; however, confounding factors such as variable repair times post exposure, increased cell killing and cell cycle block likely contributed to the yields of MNi with accumulating doses of ionizing radiation.
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Vol. 183 • No. 3