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OBJECTIVE: FLASH irradiation reportedly produces less normal tissue toxicity, while maintaining tumour response. To investigate oxygen's role in the 'FLASH effect', we assessed DNA damage levels following irradiation at different oxygen tensions, doses and dose rates. METHODS: Samples of whole blood were irradiated (20 Gy) at various oxygen tensions (0.25-21%) with 6 MeV electrons at dose rates of either 2 kGy/s (FLASH) or 0.1 Gy/s (CONV), and subsequently with various doses (0-40 Gy) and intermediate dose rates (0.3-1000 Gy/s). DNA damage of peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) were assessed by the alkaline comet assay. RESULTS: Following 20 Gy irradiation, lower levels of DNA damage were induced for FLASH, the difference being significant at 0.25% (p < 0.05) and 0.5% O2 (p < 0.01). The differential in DNA damage at 0.5% O2 was found to increase with total dose and dose rate, becoming significant for doses ≥20 Gy and dose rates ≥30 Gy/s. CONCLUSION: This study shows, using the alkaline comet assay, that lower levels of DNA damage are induced following FLASH irradiation, an effect that is modulated by the oxygen tension, and increases with the total dose and dose rate of irradiation, indicating that an oxygen related mechanism, e.g. transient radiation-induced oxygen depletion, may contribute to the tissue sparing effect of FLASH irradiation. ADVANCES IN KNOWLEDGE: This paper is first to directly show that FLASH-induced DNA damage is modulated by oxygen tension, total dose and dose rate, with FLASH inducing significantly lower levels of DNA damage for doses ≥20 Gy and dose rates ≥30 Gy/s, at 0.5% O2.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Radiol

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