Controversial Issue

Radiation and Environmental Biophysics

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 83-89

First online:

Radiation sensitivity of lymphocytes from healthy individuals and cancer patients as measured by the comet assay

  • Wolfgang-Ulrich MüllerAffiliated withInstitut für Medizinische Strahlenbiologie, Universitätsklinikum, 45122 Essen, Germany e-mail: wolfgang-ulrich.mueller@uni-essen.de Tel.: +49-201-7234152, Fax: +49-201-7235966
  • , Thomas BauchAffiliated withInstitut für Medizinische Strahlenbiologie, Universitätsklinikum, 45122 Essen, Germany e-mail: wolfgang-ulrich.mueller@uni-essen.de Tel.: +49-201-7234152, Fax: +49-201-7235966
  • , Georg StübenAffiliated withKlinik und Poliklinik für Strahlentherapie, Universitätsklinikum, 45122 Essen, Germany
  • , Horst SackAffiliated withKlinik und Poliklinik für Strahlentherapie, Universitätsklinikum, 45122 Essen, Germany
  • , Christian StrefferAffiliated withInstitut für Medizinische Strahlenbiologie, Universitätsklinikum, 45122 Essen, Germany e-mail: wolfgang-ulrich.mueller@uni-essen.de Tel.: +49-201-7234152, Fax: +49-201-7235966

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Abstract 

Lymphocytes of healthy volunteers (n=24) and of tumour patients (n=30, 18 of whom had experienced severe side-effects) were irradiated with x-rays in vitro. DNA damage was analysed after 0.25–2 Gy and DNA repair after 2 Gy, and quantification of both endpoints was done by the comet assay. The individual differences in radiation-induced DNA damage as well as in the repair kinetics were observed to be striking for both healthy donors and tumour patients. After a repair time of 3 h, following 2 Gy x-irradiation, some of the healthy volunteers showed no residual DNA damage at all in their lymphocytes, whereas others revealed about 30%. There was no indication that our results were affected by either age, gender or smoking habits. Slow repair kinetics and high amounts of residual damage were characteristic for many but not all tumour patients who had experienced severe side-effects in their normal tissues during or after radiotherapy (n=18). Our conclusion is that those individuals showing poor DNA repair characteristics in the lymphocytes following in vitro irradiation, have a high probability of being radiosensitive. The opposite conclusion is not necessarily true: if repair is effective, this does not mean that the individual is radioresistant, because factors other than impaired repair may cause radiosensitivity.