The initial yields of DNA double-strand breaks induced by energetic heavy ions (425 MeV/u neon and 250, 400 and 600 MeV/u iron) in comparison to X rays were measured in normal human diploid fibroblast cells within three small areas of the genome, defined by NotI fragments of 3.2, 2.0 and 1.2 Mbp. The methodology involves NotI restriction endonuclease digestion of DNA from irradiated cells, followed by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, Southern blotting and hybridization with probes recognizing single-copy sequences within the three NotI fragments. The gradual disappearance of the full-size NotI fragment with dose and the appearance of a smear of broken DNA molecules are quantified. Assuming Poisson statistics for the number of double-strand breaks induced per NotI fragment of known size, absolute yields of DNA double-strand breaks were calculated and determined to be linear with dose in all cases, with the neon ion (LET 32 keV/μm) producing$4.4\times 10^{-3}\ \text{breaks}/{\rm Mbp}/{\rm Gy}$ and all three iron-ion beams (LETs from 190 to 350 keV/μm) producing$2.8\times 10^{-3}\ \text{breaks}/{\rm Mbp}/{\rm Gy}$, giving RBE values for production of double-strand breaks of 0.76 for neon and 0.48 for iron in comparison to our previously determined X-ray induction rate of$5.8\times 10^{-3}\ \text{breaks}/{\rm Mbp}/{\rm Gy}$. These RBE values are in good agreement with results of measurements over the whole genome as reported in the accompanying paper (B. Rydberg, M. Löbrich and P. Cooper, Radiat. Res. 139, 133-141, 1994). The distribution of broken DNA molecules was similar for the various radiations, supporting a random distribution of double-strand breaks induced by the heavy ions over Mbp distances; however, correlated breaks (clusters) over much smaller distances are not ruled out. Reconstitution of the 3.2 Mbp NotI fragment was studied during postirradiation incubation of the cells as a measure of rejoining of correct DNA ends. The proportion of breaks repaired decreased with increasing LET.

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