Boudaïffa, B., Cloutier, P., Hunting, D., Huels, M. A. and Sanche, L. Cross Sections for Low-Energy (10 – 50 eV) Electron Damage to DNA. Radiat. Res. 157, 227 – 234 (2002).
We report direct measurements of the formation of single-, double- and multiple strand breaks in pure plasmid DNA as a function of exposure to 10 – 50 eV electrons. The effective cross sections to produce these different types of DNA strand breaks were determined and were found to range from approximately 10−17 to 3 × 10−15 cm2. The total effective cross section and the effective range for destruction of supercoiled DNA extend from 3.4 to 4.4 × 10−15 cm2 and 12 to 14 nm, respectively, over the range 10 – 50 eV. The variation of the effective cross sections with electron energy is discussed in terms of the electron's inelastic mean free path, penetration depth, and dissociation mechanisms, including resonant electron capture; the latter is found to dominate the effective cross sections for single- and double-strand breaks at 10 eV. The most striking observations are that (1) supercoiled DNA is approximately one order of magnitude more sensitive to the formation of double-strand breaks by low-energy electrons than is relaxed circular DNA, and (2) the dependence of the effective cross sections on the incident electron energy is unrelated to the corresponding ionization cross sections. This finding suggests that the traditional notion that radiobiological damage is related to the number of ionization events would not apply at very low energies.