Radiation and Environmental Biophysics

, Volume 54, Issue 3, pp 305–316 | Cite as

Modeling radiation-induced cell death: role of different levels of DNA damage clustering

  • M. P. Carante
  • S. Altieri
  • S. Bortolussi
  • I. Postuma
  • N. Protti
  • F. BallariniEmail author
Original Paper


Some open questions on the mechanisms underlying radiation-induced cell death were addressed by a biophysical model, focusing on DNA damage clustering and its consequences. DNA “cluster lesions” (CLs) were assumed to produce independent chromosome fragments that, if created within a micrometer-scale threshold distance (d), can lead to chromosome aberrations following mis-rejoining; in turn, certain aberrations (dicentrics, rings and large deletions) were assumed to lead to clonogenic cell death. The CL yield and d were the only adjustable parameters. The model, implemented as a Monte Carlo code called BIophysical ANalysis of Cell death and chromosome Aberrations (BIANCA), provided simulated survival curves that were directly compared with experimental data on human and hamster cells exposed to photons, protons, α-particles and heavier ions including carbon and iron. d = 5 μm, independent of radiation quality, and CL yields in the range ~2–20 CLs Gy−1 cell−1, depending on particle type and energy, led to good agreement between simulations and data. This supports the hypothesis of a pivotal role of DNA cluster damage at sub-micrometric scale, modulated by chromosome fragment mis-rejoining at micrometric scale. To investigate the features of such critical damage, the CL yields were compared with experimental or theoretical yields of DNA fragments of different sizes, focusing on the base-pair scale (related to the so-called local clustering), the kbp scale (“regional clustering”) and the Mbp scale, corresponding to chromatin loops. Interestingly, the CL yields showed better agreement with kbp fragments rather than bp fragments or Mbp fragments; this suggests that also regional clustering, in addition to other clustering levels, may play an important role, possibly due to its relationship with nucleosome organization in the chromatin fiber.


Ionizing radiation Cell death DNA cluster damage Chromosome aberrations Chromatin fragmentation Biophysical models 



The authors are grateful for data sharing and useful discussions to M.A. Tabocchini and co-workers concerning DNA fragmentation and to K. Prise and G. Schettino concerning cell survival. This work was partially supported by Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN), project “ETHICS.”


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. P. Carante
    • 1
    • 2
  • S. Altieri
    • 1
    • 2
  • S. Bortolussi
    • 2
  • I. Postuma
    • 1
    • 2
  • N. Protti
    • 2
  • F. Ballarini
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Physics DepartmentUniversity of PaviaPaviaItaly
  2. 2.INFN, Sezione di PaviaPaviaItaly

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