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The large RBE (approximately 7) measured for the killing of Chinese hamster V79 cells by 340 eV ultrasoft X rays, which preferentially ionize the K shell of carbon atoms (Hervé du Penhoat et al., Radiat. Res. 151, 649-658, 1999), was used to investigate the location of sensitive sites for cell inactivation and the physical modes of action of radiation. The enhancement of the RBE above the carbon K-shell edge either may indicate a high intrinsic efficiency of carbon K-shell ionizations (due, for example, to a specific physical or chemical effect) or may be related to the preferential localization of these ionizations on the DNA. The second interpretation would indicate a strong local (within 3 nm) action of K-shell ionizations and consequently the importance of a direct mechanism for radiation lethality (without excluding an action in conjunction with an indirect component). To distinguish between these two hypotheses, the efficiencies of core ionizations in DNA atoms (phosphorus L-shell, carbon K-shell, and oxygen K-shell ionizations) to induce damages were investigated by measuring their capacities to produce DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). The effect of photoionizations in isolated DNA was studied using pBS plasmids in a partially hydrated state. No enhancement of the efficiency of DSB induction by carbon K-shell ionizations compared to oxygen K-shell ionizations was found, supporting the hypothesis that it is the localization of these carbon K-shell events on DNA which gives to the 340 eV photons their high killing efficiency. In agreement with this interpretation, cell inactivation and DSB induction, which do not appear to be correlated when expressed in terms of yields per unit dose in the sample, exhibit a rather good correlation when expressed in terms of efficiencies per core event in the DNA. These results suggest that core ionizations in DNA, through core-hole relaxation in conjunction with localized effects of spatially correlated secondary and Auger electrons, may be the major critical events for cell inactivation, and that the resulting DSBs (or a constant fraction of these DSBs) may be a major class of unrepairable lesions.


Journal article


Radiat Res

Publication Date





128 - 140


Animals, Carbon, Cell Line, Cell Nucleus, Cell Survival, Cricetinae, Cricetulus, DNA, DNA Damage, DNA, Bacterial, DNA, Recombinant, DNA, Single-Stranded, DNA, Superhelical, Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation, Electrons, Fibroblasts, Gamma Rays, Ions, Lung, Models, Biological, Oxygen, Phosphorus, Photons, Plasmids, Relative Biological Effectiveness, X-Rays