In the event of a nuclear accident or radiological terrorist attack, there will be a pressing need for biodosimetry to triage a large, potentially exposed population and to assign individuals to appropriate treatment. Exposures from fallout are likely, resulting in protracted dose delivery that would, in turn, impact the extent of injury. Biodosimetry approaches that can distinguish such low-dose-rate (LDR) exposures from acute exposures have not yet been developed. In this study, we used the C57BL/6 mouse model in an initial investigation of the impact of low-dose-rate delivery on the transcriptomic response in blood. While a large number of the same genes responded to LDR and acute radiation exposures, for many genes the magnitude of response was lower after LDR exposures. Some genes, however, were differentially expressed (P < 0.001, false discovery rate <5%) in mice exposed to LDR compared with mice exposed to acute radiation. We identified a set of 164 genes that correctly classified 97% of the samples in this experiment as exposed to acute or LDR radiation using a support vector machine algorithm. Gene expression is a promising approach to radiation biodosimetry, enhanced greatly by this first demonstration of its potential for distinguishing between acute and LDR exposures. Further development of this aspect of radiation biodosimetry, either as part of a complete gene expression biodosimetry test or as an adjunct to other methods, could provide vital triage information in a mass radiological casualty event.

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