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Immunological Markers of Chronic Occupational Radiation Exposure

Rybkina, Valentina, L.1; Bannikova, Maria, V.1; Adamova, Galina, V.1; Dörr, Harald2; Scherthan, Harry2; Azizova, Tamara, V.1

doi: 10.1097/HP.0000000000000855

This study aimed to identify immunological biomarkers for prolonged occupational radiation exposure and thus studied a random sample of the Mayak Production Association worker cohort (91 individuals). The control group included 43 local individuals never employed at the Mayak Production Association. To identify biomarkers, two groups of workers were formed: the first one included workers chronically exposed to external gamma rays at cumulative doses of 0.5–3.0 Gy (14 individuals); the second one included workers exposed to combined radiation—external gamma rays at doses ranging from 0.7 to 5.1 Gy and internal alpha radiation from incorporated plutonium with 0.3–16.4 kBq body burden (77 individuals). The age range of the study individuals was 66–91 y. Peripheral blood serum protein concentrations of cytokines, immunoglobulins, and matrix metalloproteinase-9 were analyzed using enzyme-linked immunoassay following the manufacturer’s protocol. Flow cytometry was used to analyze levels of various lymphocyte subpopulations. The findings of the current study demonstrate that some immunological characteristics may be considered as biomarkers of prolonged chronic radiation exposure for any radiation type (in the delayed period after the exposure) based on fold differences from controls: M immunoglobulin fold differences were 1.75 ± 0.27 (p = 0.0001) for external gamma-ray exposure and 1.50 ± 0.27 (p = 0.0003) for combined radiation exposure; matrix metalloproteinase‐9 fold differences were 1.5 ± 0.22 (p = 0.008) for external gamma-ray exposure and 1.69 ± 0.24 (p = 0.00007) for combined radiation exposure; A immunoglobulin fold differences were 1.61 ± 0.27 (p = 0.002) for external gamma-ray exposure and 1.56 ± 0.27 (p = 0.00002) for combined radiation exposure; relative concentration of natural killer cell fold differences were 1.53 ± 0.23 (p = 0.01) for external gamma-ray exposure and 1.35 ± 0.22 (p = 0.001) for combined radiation exposure; and relative concentration of T-lymphocytes fold differences were 0.89 ± 0.04 (p = 0.01) for external gamma-ray exposure and 0.95 ± 0.05 (p = 0.003) for combined radiation exposure. Based on fold differences from controls, interferon-gamma (3.50 ± 0.65, p = 0.031), transforming growth factor-beta (2.91 ± 0.389, p = 0.026), and relative blood serum levels of T-helper cells (0.90 ± 0.065, p = 0.02) may be used as immunological markers of chronic external gamma-ray exposure. Moreover, there was a significant inverse linear association of relative concentration of T-helper cells with dose from external gamma rays accumulated over an extended period.

1Southern Urals Biophysics Institute, Ozerskoe shosse, 19, Ozyorsk 456780, Ozyorsk, Russia;

2Bundeswehr Institute of Radiobiology, affiliated to the University of Ulm, Neuherbergstr. 11, Ernst von Bergmann Kaserne, 80937 Munich, Germany.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

For correspondence contact: Valentina L. Rybkina, Southern Urals Biophysics Institute, Ozerskoe shosse, 19, Ozyorsk 456780, Russia, or email at

(Manuscript accepted 8 January 2018)

© 2018 by the Health Physics Society