Human exposure to ionizing radiation is highly associated with adverse health effects, including reduced hematopoietic cell function and increased risk of carcinogenesis. The hematopoietic deficits manifest across blood cell types and persist for years after radiation exposure, suggesting a long-lived and multi-potent cellular reservoir for radiation-induced effects. As such, research has focused on identifying both the immediate and latent hematopoietic stem cell responses to radiation exposure. Radiation-associated effects on hematopoietic function and malignancy development have generally been attributed to the direct induction of mutations resulting from radiation-induced DNA damage. Other studies have illuminated the role of cellular programs that both limit and enhance radiation-induced tissue phenotypes and carcinogenesis. In this review, distinct but collaborative cellular responses to genotoxic insults are highlighted, with an emphasis on how these programmed responses impact hematopoietic cellular fitness and competition. These radiation-induced cellular programs include apoptosis, senescence and impaired self-renewal within the hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) pool. In the context of sporadic DNA damage to a cell, these cellular responses act in concert to restore tissue function and prevent selection for adaptive oncogenic mutations. But in the contexts of whole-tissue exposure or whole-body exposure to genotoxins, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy, we propose that these programs can contribute to long-lasting tissue impairment and increased carcinogenesis.
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Vol. 184 • No. 4