Send to

Choose Destination
Dose Response. 2009 Jun 11;7(2):104-31. doi: 10.2203/dose-response.08-016.Scott.

Radiation-stimulated epigenetic reprogramming of adaptive-response genes in the lung: an evolutionary gift for mounting adaptive protection against lung cancer.

Author information

Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, 2425 Ridgecrest Drive SE, Albuquerque, NM 87108, USA.


Humans are continuously exposed to low-level ionizing radiation from natural sources. However, harsher radiation environments persisted during our planet's early years and mammals survived via an evolutionary gift--a system of radiation-induced natural protective measures (adaptive protection). This system includes antioxidants, DNA repair, apoptosis of severely damaged cells, epigenetically regulated apoptosis (epiapoptosis) pathways that selectively remove precancerous and other aberrant cells, and immunity against cancer. We propose a novel model in which the protective system is regulated at least in part via radiation-stress-stimulated epigenetic reprogramming (epireprogramming) of adaptive-response genes. High-dose radiation can promote epigenetically silencing of adaptive-response genes (episilencing), for example via promoter-associated DNA and/or histone methylation and/or histone deacetylation. Evidence is provided for low linear-energy-transfer (LET) radiation-activated natural protection (ANP) against high-LET alpha-radiation-induced lung cancer in plutonium-239 exposed rats and radon-progeny-exposed humans. Using a revised hormetic relative risk model for cancer induction that accounts for both epigenetic activation (epiactivation) and episilencing of genes, we demonstrate that, on average, >80% of alpha-radiation-induced rat lung cancers were prevented by chronic, low-rate gamma-ray ANP. Interestingly, lifetime exposure to residential radon at the Environmental Protection Agency's action level of 4 pCi L(-1) appears to be associated with on average a > 60% reduction in lung cancer cases, rather than an increase. We have used underlined italics to indicate newly introduced terminology.


adaptive response; epigenetic reprogramming; radiation hormesis

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center