Cell to cell variability of radiation-induced foci: Relation between observed damage and energy deposition

Gaëtan Gruel, Carmen Villagrasa, Pascale Voisin, Isabelle Clairand, Marc Benderitter, Jean François Bottollier-Depois, Joan Francesc Barquinero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016 Gruel et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Most studies that aim to understand the interactions between different types of photon radiation and cellular DNA assume homogeneous cell irradiation, with all cells receiving the same amount of energy. The level of DNA damage is therefore generally determined by averaging it over the entire population of exposed cells. However, evaluating the molecular consequences of a stochastic phenomenon such as energy deposition of ionizing radiation by measuring only an average effect may not be sufficient for understanding some aspects of the cellular response to this radiation. The variance among the cells associated with this average effect may also be important for the behaviour of irradiated tissue. In this study, we accurately estimated the distribution of the number of radiation-induced γH2AX foci (RIF) per cell nucleus in a large population of endothelial cells exposed to 3 macroscopic doses of gamma rays from 60Co. The number of RIF varied significantly and reproducibly from cell to cell, with its relative standard deviation ranging from 36% to 18% depending on the macroscopic dose delivered. Interestingly, this relative cell-to-cell variability increased as the dose decreased, contrary to the mean RIF count per cell. This result shows that the dose effect, in terms of the number of DNA lesions indicated by RIF is not as simple as a purely proportional relation in which relative SD is constant with dose. To analyse the origins of this observed variability, we calculated the spread of the specific energy distribution for the different target volumes and subvolumes in which RIF can be generated. Variances, standard deviations and relative standard deviations all changed similarly from dose to dose for biological and calculated microdosimetric values. This similarity is an important argument that supports the hypothesis of the conservation of the association between the number of RIF per nucleus and the specific energy per DNA molecule. This comparison allowed us to calculate a volume of 1.6 μm3 for which the spread of the specific energy distribution could explain the entire variability of RIF counts per cell in an exposed cell population. The definition of this volume may allow to use a microdosimetric quantity to predict heterogeneity in DNA damage. Moreover, this value is consistent with the order of magnitude of the volume occupied by the hydrated sugar-phosphate backbone of the DNA molecule, which is the part of the DNA molecule responsible for strand breaks.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0145786
JournalPLoS ONE
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2016


Dive into the research topics of 'Cell to cell variability of radiation-induced foci: Relation between observed damage and energy deposition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this