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Radiat Prot Dosimetry. 2002;99(1-4):159-62.

Bystander effects: intercellular transmission of radiation damage signals.

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Harvard School of Public Health, Laboratory of Radiobiology, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Biological effects were examined in confluent cultures of fibroblasts and epithelial cells exposed to very low mean doses of alpha radiation, doses by which only 1-2% of the cells were actually traversed by an alpha particle. Enhanced frequencies of sister chromatid exchanges and HPRT mutations occurred in the non-irradiated, 'bystander' cells associated with a similar increase in the frequency of micronuclei, indicating the induction of DNA damage in these cells. In order to gain information concerning molecular pathways, changes in gene expression were examined in bystander cells by western analysis and in situ immunofluorescence staining. The expression levels of p53, p21 and MDM2 were significantly modulated in bystander cells; the damage signals leading to these changes were transmitted from irradiated to bystander cells by gap junction mediated intercellular communication. The bystander response was suppressed by incubation with superoxide dismutase as well as an inhibitor of NADPH oxidase, suggesting the effect may be mediated by oxidative stress. To examine other signalling pathways responsive to oxidative stress, the activation of stress-related kinases and their downstream transcription factors were analysed in bystander cells by western blotting and electrophoretic mobility shift assays; a 2-4-fold increase in the phosphorylation levels of JNK, ERK1/2, p90RSK, Elk-1 and ATF2 was observed. These changes were detected by 15 min after irradiation and persisted for at least 1 h. These findings indicate the activation of multiple signal transduction pathways in bystander cells, involving signals arising from the plasma membrane as well as from DNA damage.

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