Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Institutional members access full text with Ovid®


Preston, R. Julian

Review Article

The opportunity to write a historical review of the field of radiation biology allows for the viewing of the development and maturity of a field of study, thereby being able to provide the appropriate context for the earlier years of research and its findings. The pioneering work of Muller, Sax, and McClintock, and many others, has stood the test of time. The idea that x-rays could damage the genetic material and result in interactions that could lead to gene mutations and a range of chromosomal alterations is now interpretable in terms of induced DNA damage and errors of DNA repair. The expanded idea that such genetic alterations can be induced by DNA damage that is produced by one or two tracks of ionizing radiation remains the mainstay of radiation biology. The impact of the more recent molecular approaches to unraveling the mechanism behind this simple concept has confirmed this fundamental observation. The remarkable advances have allowed for a fairly complete understanding of the specific types of DNA damage induced by ionizing radiations and the pivotal role played by the errors of repair of double-strand breaks. Given our considerably enhanced knowledge of the details of the DNA repair processes involved, misrepair is a very unlikely event. The role of potential confounders of the concept of dose-response (e.g., bystander effects, genomic instability, and adaptive responses) is taking on a growing importance to the field. The evolving need is to begin to consider mechanistically-based dose-response models for cancer risk such that any potential impact of confounders on the response at low, environmental doses can be assessed. Thus, radiation biology research has always had a focus on how best to protect human health from radiation exposures and will continue to do so.

* Environmental Carcinogenesis Division, NHEERL, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, NC 27711.

This manuscript has been reviewed in accordance with U.S. EPA guidance but does not necessarily reflect EPA policy.

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

(Manuscript received 29 February 2004; accepted 2 April 2004)

© 2004 by the Health Physics Society