During space travel astronauts are exposed to a variety of radiations, including galactic cosmic rays composed of high-energy protons and high-energy charged (HZE) nuclei, and solar particle events containing low- to medium-energy protons. Risks from these exposures include carcinogenesis, central nervous system damage and degenerative tissue effects. Currently, career radiation limits are based on estimates of fatal cancer risks calculated using a model that incorporates human epidemiological data from exposed populations, estimates of relative biological effectiveness and dose-response data from relevant mammalian experimental models. A major goal of space radiation risk assessment is to link mechanistic data from biological studies at NASA Space Radiation Laboratory and other particle accelerators with risk models. Early phenotypes of HZE exposure, such as the induction of reactive oxygen species, DNA damage signaling and inflammation, are sensitive to HZE damage complexity. This review summarizes our current understanding of critical areas within the DNA damage and oxidative stress arena and provides insight into their mechanistic interdependence and their usefulness in accurately modeling cancer and other risks in astronauts exposed to space radiation. Our ultimate goals are to examine potential links and crosstalk between early response modules activated by charged particle exposure, to identify critical areas that require further research and to use these data to reduced uncertainties in modeling cancer risk for astronauts. A clearer understanding of the links between early mechanistic aspects of high-LET response and later surrogate cancer end points could reveal key nodes that can be therapeutically targeted to mitigate the health effects from charged particle exposures.
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Vol. 183 • No. 1