This work provides a description of a new interaction, cross-section-based model for radiation-induced cellular inactivation, sublethal damage, DNA repair and cell survival, with the ability to more accurately elucidate different radiation-response phenomena. The principal goal of this work is to describe the damage-induction cross sections, as well as repair and survival, as Poisson processes with two main types of damage: mild damage that can be rapidly handled by the most basic repair processes; and more complex damage requiring longer repair times and the high-fidelity homologous recombination (HR) repair process to ensure accuracy and safety in the survival. This work is unique in its use of Poisson statistics to quantify the main repairable cell compartments that are exposed to simple and more complex sublethal hits, the cross section of which determines what is homologically and non-homologically repairable. The new method is applied to central radiation damage and survival data, such as in vitro cellular repair and survival with key DNA repair genes knocked out, low-dose hypersensitivity (LDHS), change in survival over the cell cycle, and variation in linear energy transfer (LET) for densely ionizing ions, all results supporting our basic assumptions. Among the results, it was shown that less than 1% of the simple DSBs are lethal at approximately 2 Gy and below for sparsely ionizing radiations, but their δ-electron track ends of between 1.5 and 0.5 keV can deliver 0.5 MGy to a few hundred nm3 volumes, mainly due to multiple scatter detours and multiple secondary electrons. They can cause dual double-strand breaks (DSBs) on the periphery of nucleosomes that are the most common multiply damaged sites, with an average of 1–2 δ-electron track ends per cell nucleus at 2 Gy. LDHS is most likely due to the normal lack of fast, efficient repair of sublethal damage below approximately 0.5 Gy, and requires largely intact key DNA repair genes to achieve significant repair recovery at higher doses. The new repair model describes this phenomenon quite accurately. Cells with key non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) genes knocked-out, lose LDHS but provoke HR repair, and cells with HR genes knocked out may lose some LDHS, but provoke NHEJ repair. The DNA duplication during the S phase suggests a direct doubling as well of the total and sublethal hit cross sections. For the lowest LET carbon ions, NHEJ is reduced to where it is almost eliminated at maximum relative biological effectiveness (RBE), while HR is induced more than by X rays, due to complex damage and misrepair of DSBs produced by numerous δ electrons. The use of a lower LET such as electrons or photons during the final week of radiation treatment may potentially maximize complication-free cure. Optimally-designed weekly fractionation schedules are proposed to maximize the DNA repair potential in normal tissues. Additionally, the optimal therapeutic ion species, LET, apoptosis and permanent growth arrest/senescence window is identified with helium, lithium and boron ions and LETs at approximately 15–55 eV/nm, to maximize these quantities in the tumor and minimize them in the normal tissues, resulting in a very high probability of complication-free cure.

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