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To test a possible specific effect of carbon K-shell ionizations in DNA, survival curves for Chinese hamster V79 cells were measured for X irradiations at energies below and above the carbon K-shell ionization threshold. Specific values of the X-ray energies (250 and 340 eV) were chosen to ensure isoattenuation of the two kinds of radiation within the cell. An enhancement of lethality by a factor of about 2 was found for X rays at 340 eV compared to below the threshold at 250 eV. This may be attributed to the production of highly efficient carbon K-shell ionizations located on DNA. A model of X-ray lethality (Goodhead et al., Radiat. Prot. Dosim. 52, 217-223, 1994) was extended to allow for a possible lethal effect from clusters of reactive species induced by K-shell photoionizations (K-shell clusters). Within this model, the increase in lethality above the carbon K-shell threshold may be explained by a value of 2% for the lethal efficiency of K- shell clusters overlapping the DNA. An extrapolation to the lethal effect of more complex ion-induced K-shell ionizations indicates that K-shell ionization may be a major process in the biological effectiveness of heavy ions.

Original publication




Journal article


Radiation Research

Publication Date





649 - 658