The relative biological effectiveness (RBE) of neutrons for many biological end points varies with neutron energy. To test the hypothesis that the RBE of neutrons varies with respect to their energy for chromosome aberrations in a cell system that does not face interphase death, we studied the yield of chromosome aberrations induced by monoenergetic neutrons in normal human fibroblasts at the first mitosis postirradiation. Monoenergetic neutrons at 0.22, 0.34, 0.43, 1, 5.9 and 13.6 MeV were generated at the Accelerator Facility of the Center for Radiological Research, Columbia University, and were used to irradiate plateau-phase fibroblasts at low absorbed doses from 0.3 to 1.2 Gy at a low dose rate. The reference low-LET, low-dose-rate radiation was137 Cs γ rays (0.66 MeV). A linear dose response (Y = αD) for chromosome aberrations was obtained for all monoenergetic neutrons and for the γ rays. The yield of chromosome aberrations per unit dose was high at low neutron energies (0.22, 0.34 and 0.43 MeV) with a gradual decline with the increase in neutron energy. Maximum RBE (${\rm RBE}_{{\rm M}}$) values varied for the different types of chromosome aberrations. The highest RBE (24.3) for 0.22 and 0.43 MeV neutrons was observed for intrachromosomal deletions, a category of chromosomal change common in solid tumors. Even for the 13.6 MeV neutrons the${\rm RBE}_{{\rm M}}$ (11.1) exceeded 10. These results show that the RBE of neutrons varies with neutron energy and that RBEs are dissimilar between different types of asymmetric chromosome aberrations and suggest that the radiation weighting factors applicable to low-energy neutrons need firmer delineation. This latter may best be attained with neutrons of well-defined energies. This would enable integrations of appropriate quality factors with measured radiation fields, such as those in high-altitude Earth atmosphere. The introduction of commercial flights at high altitude could result in many more individuals being exposed to neutrons than occurs in terrestrial workers, emphasizing the necessity for better-defined estimates of risk.

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