There are at least two different modes of cell death after treatment with ionizing radiation. The first is a failure to undergo sustained cell division despite metabolic survival, and we refer to this end point as "classical reproductive cell death." The second is a process that results in loss of cell integrity. This second category includes cellular necrosis as well as apoptosis. Earlier studies in our laboratory showed that the predominant mechanism of cell death for irradiated F9 cells is apoptosis, and there is no indication that these cells die by necrosis. We have therefore used cells of this cell line to reassess basic radiobiological principles with respect to apoptosis. Classical reproductive cell death was determined by staining colonies derived from irradiated cells and scoring colonies of less than 50 cells as reproductively dead and colonies of more than 50 cells as survivors. Cells that failed to produce either type of colony (detached from the plate or disintegrated) were scored as having undergone apoptosis. Using these criteria we found that the fraction of the radiation-killed F9 cells that died by apoptosis did not vary when cells were irradiated at different stages of the cell cycle despite large variations in overall survival. This suggests that the factors that influence radiation sensitivity throughout the cell cycle have an equal impact on apoptosis and classical reproductive cell death. There was no difference in cell survival between split doses and single doses of X rays, suggesting that sublethal damage repair is not a factor in radiation-induced apoptosis of F9 cells. Apoptosis was not affected by changes in dose rate in the range of 0.038-4.96 Gy/min.

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