Chinese hamster V79-S cells capable of growing in suspension culture were exposed to60 Co γ rays at a high dose rate (84 Gy/h), low dose rates (200, 50, and 39 mGy/h), and a spectrum of very low dose rates (between 29 and 4.5 mGy/h). Following time for appropriate expression the cultures were assayed for the induction of 6-thioguanine-resistant mutants. For a given dose, a decrease in mutation induction occurred as the dose rate was reduced from high dose rates to low dose rates. However, further reduction in dose rate resulted in a reverse dose-rate effect, and an increase in the frequency of mutants was observed. The contribution of background mutation frequency to this reverse dose-rate effect was studied, both by examining fluctuations of mutation frequency in nonirradiated culture and by its impact upon the dose-rate-independent nature of the reversed effect, and it was found to be negligible. The physiological state of the suspension culture under periods of protracted exposure to very low dose rates was also investigated. The effect of doubling time, plating efficiency, cell cycle distribution, and sensitivity on survival and mutation were examined. In no case was a change apparent during the very low-dose-rate exposures. The results are discussed in terms of the possible expression of cryptic radiation damage after prolonged culture times and/or the involvement of an error-free repair system which requires a certain amount of radiation damage to become active.

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