There is increasing evidence that two of the biological effects associated with low-dose ionizing radiation, genomic instability and bystander responses, may be linked. To verify and validate the link between the two phenomena, the ability of Si490 ions (high-energy particles associated with radiation risk in space) to induce bystander responses and chromosomal instability in human bronchial epithelial (HBEC-3kt) cells was investigated. These studies were conducted at both the population and single cell level in irradiated and nonirradiated bystander cells receiving medium from the irradiated cultures. At the general population level, transfer of medium from silicon-ion (Si490)-irradiated cultures (at doses of 0.073 Gy, 1.2 Gy and 2 Gy) to nonirradiated bystander cells resulted in small increases in the levels of chromosomal aberrations at the first division. Subsequently, single cell clones isolated from irradiated and bystander populations were analyzed for the appearance of de novo chromosome-type aberrations after ∼50 population doublings using mFISH. Both irradiated and bystander clones demonstrated chromosomal instability (as seen by the de novo appearance of translocations and chromosomal fragments), albeit to different degrees, whereas sham-treated controls showed relatively stable chromosomal patterns. The results presented here highlight the importance of nontargeted effects of radiation on chromosomal instability in human epithelial cells and their potential relevance to human health.

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