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Little, John B.*

doi: 10.1097/01.HP.0000232847.23192.3e
Special Submission

Traditional thinking has been that the biological effects of ionizing radiation occur in irradiated cells as a consequence of the DNA damage they incur. This implies that (1) biological effects occur only in irradiated cells, (2) radiation traversal through the nucleus of the cell is a prerequisite to produce a biological response, and (3) DNA is the target molecule in the cell. Evidence has been emerging, however, for non-DNA targeted effects of radiation; that is, effects including mutations, chromosomal aberrations, and changes in gene expression that occur in cells that in themselves receive no radiation exposure. Two of these phenomena will be described in this paper. The first is radiation-induced genomic instability whereby biological effects, including elevated frequencies of mutations and chromosomal aberrations, arise in the distant descendants of irradiated cells. The second phenomenon has been termed the “bystander effect,” whereby in a mixed population of irradiated and nonirradiated cells, biological effects arise in those cells that receive no radiation exposure. The damage signals are transmitted from cell to cell through gap junction channels, and the genetic effects observed in bystander cells appear to result from an upregulation of oxidative stress. The possible influence of these nontargeted effects of radiation on the response to low-dose exposures is discussed.

* Harvard School of Public Health, Center for Radiation Sciences and Environmental Health, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.

For correspondence contact the author at the above address, or email at

(Manuscript accepted 24 May 2006)

©2006Health Physics Society