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Int J Radiat Biol. 2016 Dec 22:1-11. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2016.1266407. [Epub ahead of print]

Ionizing radiation sensitivity of the ocular lens and its dose rate dependence.

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  • 1a Radiation Safety Research Center, Nuclear Technology Research Laboratory , Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry (CRIEPI) , Tokyo , Japan.



In 2011, the International Commission on Radiological Protection reduced the threshold for the lens effects of low linear energy transfer (LET) radiation. On one hand, the revised threshold of 0.5 Gy is much lower than previously recommended thresholds, but mechanisms behind high radiosensitivity remain incompletely understood. On the other hand, such a threshold is independent of dose rate, in contrast to previously recommended separate thresholds each for single and fractionated/protracted exposures. Such a change was made predicated on epidemiological evidence suggesting that a threshold for fractionated/protracted exposures is not higher than an acute threshold, and that a chronic threshold is uncertain. Thus, the dose rate dependence is still unclear. This paper therefore reviews the current knowledge on the radiosensitivity of the lens and the dose rate dependence of radiation cataractogenesis, and discusses its mechanisms.


Mounting biological evidence indicates that the lens cells are not necessarily radiosensitive to cell killing, and the high radiosensitivity of the lens thus appears to be attributable to other mechanisms (e.g., excessive proliferation, abnormal differentiation, a slow repair of DNA double-strand breaks, telomere, senescence, crystallin changes, non-targeted effects and inflammation). Both biological and epidemiological evidence generally supports the lack of dose rate effects. However, there is also biological evidence for the tissue sparing dose rate (or fractionation) effect of low-LET radiation and an enhancing inverse dose fractionation effect of high-LET radiation at a limited range of LET. Emerging epidemiological evidence in chronically exposed individuals implies the inverse dose rate effect. Further biological and epidemiological studies are warranted to gain deeper knowledge on the radiosensitivity of the lens and dose rate dependence of radiation cataractogenesis.


Lens of the eye; cataract; dose fractionation effect; enhancing inverse dose rate effect; radiosensitivity; tissue-sparing dose rate effect

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