Biological characterization of low-energy ions with high-energy deposition on human cells

Janapriya Saha, Paul Wilson, Peter Thieberger, Derek Lowenstein, Minli Wang, Francis A. Cucinotta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


During space travel, astronauts are exposed to cosmic radiation that is comprised of high-energy nuclear particles. Cancer patients are also exposed to high-energy nuclear particles when treated with proton and carbon beams. Nuclear interactions from high-energy particles traversing shielding materials and tissue produce low-energy (<10 MeV/n) secondary particles of high-LET that contribute significantly to overall radiation exposures. Track structure theories suggest that high charge and energy (HZE) particles and low-energy secondary ions of similar LET will have distinct biological effects for cellular and tissue damage endpoints. We investigated the biological effects of low-energy ions of high LET utilizing the Tandem Van de Graaff accelerator at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), and compared these to experiments with HZE particles, that mimic the space environment produced at NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL) at BNL. Immunostaining for DNA damage response proteins was carried out after irradiation with 5.6 MeV/n boron (LET 205 keV/μm), 5.3 MeV/n silicon (LET 1241 keV/μm), 600 MeV/n Fe (LET 180 keV/μm) and 77 MeV/n oxygen (LET 58 keV/μm) particles. Low-energy ions caused more persistent DNA damage response (DDR) protein foci in irradiated human fibroblasts and esophageal epithelial cells compared to HZE particles. More detailed studies comparing boron ions to Fe particles, showed that boron-ion radiation resulted in a stronger G2 delay compared to Fe-particle exposure, and boron ions also showed an early recruitment of Rad51 at double-strand break (DSB) sites, which suggests a preference of homologous recombination for DSB repair in low-energy albeit high-LET particles. Our experiments suggest that the very high-energy radiation deposition by low-energy ions, representative of galactic cosmic radiation and solar particle event secondary radiation, generates massive but localized DNA damage leading to delayed DSB repair, and distinct cellular responses from HZE particles. Thus, low-energy heavy ions provide a valuable probe for studies of homologous recombination repair in radiation responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)282-291
Number of pages10
JournalRadiation research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiation
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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