The radiation-induced bystander effect: evidence and significance

Edouard I Azzam, John B Little
Human & Experimental Toxicology 2004, 23 (2): 61-5
A multitude of biological effects observed over the past two decades in various in vivo and in vitro cell culture experiments have indicated that low dose/low fluence ionizing radiation has significantly different biological responses than high dose radiation. Exposure of cell populations to very low fluences of alpha-particles or incorporated radionuclides results in significant biological effects occurring in both the irradiated and nonirradiated cells in the population. Cells recipient of growth medium from irradiated cultures can also respond to the radiation exposure. This phenomenon, termed the 'bystander response', has been postulated to impact both the estimation of risks of exposure to ionizing radiation and radiotherapy. Amplification of radiation-induced cytotoxic and genotoxic effects by the bystander effect is in contrast to the observations of adaptive responses, which are generally induced following exposure to low dose, low linear energy transfer radiation and which tend to attenuate radiation-induced damage. In this article, the evidence for existence of radiation-induced bystander effects and our current knowledge of the biochemical and molecular events involved in mediating these effects are described. Potential similarities between factors that mediate the radiation-induced bystander and adaptive responses are highlighted.

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