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The efficiency of producing biological damage varies with radiation quality. Conventional explanations rely on spatial differences in the radiation track structure; generally however there are also very large temporal differences in delivery of the radiation at the cellular level. High-LET radiation normally deposits substantial amounts of energy by individual heavily ionizing tracks on a timescale of the order of picoseconds. By contrast each low-LET radiation track deposits a small amount of energy. Many of these tracks, distributed over the whole cell, are required to deliver an equivalent dose to a high-LET track and they are usually delivered over much longer timescales (typically seconds) during which chemical, biochemical and biological processes are occurring. In this paper the design, characterization and initial application of a high-brightness, laser-plasma ultrasoft x-ray source is described. This has been used to investigate the importance of the temporal differences by irradiating mammalian cells with an energy deposition with spatial properties of low-LET radiation and temporal properties similar to high-LET radiation. The present system delivers a typical dose, to the incident surface of the cells, of 0.12 Gy per pulse delivered in <10 ps. The capabilities of the x-ray source were tested by determining the survival of V79-4 hamster cells irradiated with picosecond pulses of ultrasoft x-rays under aerobic and anaerobic conditions, which were found to be consistent with previously published non pulsed data with x-rays of similar energy. These results support the expectation that the disappearance of an oxygen effect for high-LET radiation particles is due to their spatial properties rather than the very short timescale of each particle traversal. For other effects, particularly non-targeted phenomena such as induced genomic instability, expectations may be less clear cut.


Journal article


Phys Med Biol

Publication Date





3543 - 3555


Animals, Cell Line, Cricetinae, Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation, Energy Transfer, Lasers, Oxygen, Radiometry, Time Factors, X-Rays