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Gravit Space Biol Bull. 2003 Jun;16(2):29-36.

Fundamental space radiobiology.

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  • 1Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, USA.


The unique feature of the space radiation environment is the dominance of high-energy charged particles (HZE or high LET radiation) emitted by the Sun and galactic sources, or trapped in the Van Allen radiation belts. These charged particles present a significant hazard to space flight crews, and accelerator-based experiments are underway to quantify the health risks due to unavoidable radiation exposure. There are three principal properties of charged particles that distinguish them from conventional radiation, i.e. gamma rays and x-rays. First, they have a defined range in matter rather than an exponential absorption profile. Second, they undergo nuclear reactions to produce secondary particles. Third, and most important, they deposit their energy along well-defined linear paths or tracks rather than diffuse fields. The structured energy deposition pattern interacts on multiple scales with the biological structures of DNA, cells and tissues to produce correlated patterns of damage that evade repair systems. Traditional concepts of dose and its associated normalization parameter, RBE (relative biological effectiveness), break down under experimental scrutiny, and probabilistic models of risk based on the number of particle traversals per cell may be more appropriate. Unique patterns of DNA damage, gene expression, mobilization of repair proteins, activation of cytokines and remodeling of cellular microenvironment are observed following exposure to high LET radiation. At low levels of exposure the communication of bioactive substances from irradiated to unirradiated "bystander" cells can amplify the damage and cause a significant deviation from linearity in dose vs. response relations. Under some circumstances, there is even a multigenerational delay in the expression of radiation-induced genetic damage (genomic instability) which is not strictly dose dependent. These issues and the experimental evidence derived from ground based experiments at particle accelerators are presented along with speculation about how modified inertial conditions might perturb homeostatic responses to radiation to further complicate risk assessment for space flight.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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