Durante, M. Biomarkers of Space Radiation Risk. Radiat. Res. 164, 467–473 (2005).
Radiation risk estimates are based on epidemiological data obtained on Earth for cohorts exposed predominantly to acute doses of γ rays, and the extrapolation to the space environment is highly problematic and error-prone. The uncertainty can be reduced if risk estimates are compared directly to space radiation-induced biological alterations, i.e. by detecting biomarkers in astronauts. Chromosomal aberrations in peripheral blood lymphocytes are the only biomarker that can provide simultaneous information on dose, dose equivalent and risk, and they have been measured extensively in astronauts during the past 10 years. Individual relative risks calculated from chromosomal aberration measurements in crew members after single space missions in low-Earth orbit fall in the same range as the estimates derived from physical dosimetry, suggesting that the current system for radiogenic risk evaluation is essentially sound. However, the output of the biomarker test is dependent upon the sampling time. Recent results show a fast time-dependent decay of chromosomal aberrations in blood lymphocytes after space flight and a lack of correlation between translocations and cumulative dose in astronauts involved in two to five space missions. This “time factor” may reflect individual variability and time dependence in the risk produced by exposure to cosmic radiation during the flight. Biomarkers may be superior to dose in predicting space radiation risk, pending technical improvements in sensitivity, and validation by epidemiological studies.