It is well known that nonirradiated cells can exhibit radiation damage (bystander effect), and recent findings have shown that nonirradiated cells may help protect irradiated cells (rescue effect). These findings call into question the traditional view of radiation response: cells cannot be envisioned as isolated units. Here, we investigated traditional colony formation assays to determine if they also comprise cellular communication affecting the radiation response, using colony formation assays with varying numbers of cells, modulated beam irradiation and media transfer. Our findings showed that surviving fraction gradually increased with increasing number of irradiated cells. Specifically, for DU-145 human prostate cancer cells, surviving fraction increased 1.9-to-4.1-fold after 5–12 Gy irradiation; and for MM576 human melanoma cells, surviving fraction increased 1.9-fold after 5 Gy irradiation. Furthermore, increased surviving fraction was evident after modulated beam irradiation, where irradiated cells could communicate with nonirradiated cells. Media from dense cell culture also increased surviving fraction. The results suggest that traditional colony formation assays comprise unavoidable cellular communication affecting radiation outcome and the shape of the survival curve. We also propose that the increased in-field surviving fraction after modulated beam irradiation is due to the same effect.
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Vol. 189 • No. 1