In 1986, when an explosion accident occurred at the Chernobyl, Ukraine nuclear power plant, a large number of people were exposed to significant amounts of ionizing radiation. During the time between 1986 and 1992, peripheral blood samples were obtained from 102 people who either were on site during the emergency or were brought to Chernobyl shortly thereafter to assist in the cleanup of radioactive contaminants and isolate the damaged reactor from the environment. These blood samples plus samples from 13 unexposed Soviet individuals were analyzed by flow cytometry using the allele-loss somatic mutation assay for glycophorin A. Results of these assays show that the frequency of N/Ø variant red cells increased in proportion to the estimated radiation exposure of each individual. The radiation dose-response function derived from this population closely resembles that determined previously for atomic bomb survivors whose blood samples were obtained and analyzed 40 years after their exposure. This suggests comparable mutation induction per unit dose for these two populations and long-term persistence of the mutational damage. In addition, measurements on multiple blood samples from each of 10 donors taken over a 7-year period showed no significant changes in N/Ø variant cell frequencies, confirming the persistence of radiation-induced somatic mutations in long-lived bone marrow stem cells.

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