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Is Ionizing Radiation Harmful at any Exposure? An Echo That Continues to Vibrate

Azzam, Edouard I.; Colangelo, Nicholas W.; Domogauer, Jason D.; Sharma, Neha; de Toledo, Sonia M.

doi: 10.1097/HP.0000000000000450
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The health risks to humans and non-human biota exposed to low dose ionizing radiation remain ambiguous and are the subject of intense debate. The need to establish risk assessment standards based on the mechanisms underlying low-level radiation exposure has been recognized by regulatory agencies as critical to adequately protect people and to make the most effective use of national resources. Here, the authors briefly review evidence showing that the molecular and biochemical changes induced by low doses of radiation differ from those induced by high doses. In particular, an array of redundant and inter-related mechanisms act in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes to restore DNA integrity following exposures to relatively low doses of sparsely ionizing radiation. Furthermore, the radiation-induced protective mechanisms often overcompensate and minimize the mutagenic potential of the byproducts of normal oxidative metabolism. In contrast to adaptive protection observed at low doses of sparsely ionizing radiation, there is evidence that even a single nuclear traversal by a densely ionizing particle track can trigger harmful effects that spread beyond the traversed cell and induce damaging effects in the nearby bystander cells. In vivo studies examining whether exposure to low dose radiation at younger age modulates the latency of expression of age-related diseases such as cancer, together with studies on the role of genetic susceptibility, will further illuminate the magnitude of risk of exposure to low dose radiation.

*Department of Radiology, New Jersey Medical School, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ 07103.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

(Manuscript accepted 14 October 2015)

© 2016 by the Health Physics Society