Radiation damage to DNA: the importance of track structure
A wide variety of biological effects are induced by ionizing radiation, from cell death to mutations and carcinogenesis. The biological effectiveness is found to vary not only with the absorbed dose but also with the type of radiation and its energy, i.e., with the nature of radiation tracks. An overview is presented of some of the biological experiments using different qualities of radiation, which when compared with Monte Carlo track structure studies, have highlighted the importance of the localized spatial properties of stochastic energy deposition on the nanometer scale at or near DNA. The track structure leads to clustering of damage which may include DNA breaks, base damage etc., the complexity of the cluster and therefore its biological repairability varying with radiation type. The ability of individual tracks to produce clustered damage, and the subsequent biological response are important in the assessment of the risk associated with low-level human exposure. Recent experiments have also shown that biological response to radiation is not always restricted to the 'hit' cell but can sometimes be induced in 'un-hit' cells near by.