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Environ Health Perspect. 1997 Sep;105 Suppl 5:1095-101.

A new mechanism for DNA alterations induced by alpha particles such as those emitted by radon and radon progeny.

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Life Sciences Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico 87545, USA.


The mechanism(s) by which alpha (alpha) particles like those emitted from inhaled radon and radon progeny cause their carcinogenic effects in the lung remains unclear. Although direct nuclear traversals by alpha-particles may be involved in mediating these outcomes, increasing evidence indicates that a particles can cause alterations in DNA in the absence of direct hits to cell nuclei. Using the occurrence of excessive sister chromatid exchanges (SCE) as an index of DNA damage in human lung fibroblasts, we investigated the hypothesis that alpha-particles may induce DNA damage through the generation of extracellular factors. We have found that a relatively low dose of alpha-particles can result in the generation of extracellular factors, which, upon transfer to unexposed normal human cells, can cause excessive SCE to an extent equivalent to that observed when the cells are directly irradiated with the same irradiation dose. A short-lived, SCE-inducing factor(s) is generated in alpha-irradiated culture medium containing serum in the absence of cells. A more persistent SCE-inducing factor(s), which can survive freeze-thaw and is heat labile is produced by fibroblasts after exposure to the alpha-particles. These results indicate that the initiating target for alpha-particle-induced genetic changes can be larger than a cell's nucleus or even a whole cell. How transmissible factors like those observed here in vitro may extend to the in vivo condition in the context of a-particle-induced carcinogenesis in the respiratory tract remains to be determined.

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