Radiation-induced bystander effects and adaptive responses—the Yin and Yang of low dose radiobiology?
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Our current knowledge of the mechanisms underlying the induction of bystander effects by low doses of high or low LET ionizing radiation is reviewed. The question of what actually constitutes a protective effect is discussed in the context of adaptive (often referred to as hormetic or protective) responses. Finally the review considers critically, how bystander effects may be related to observed adaptive responses or other seemingly protective effects of low doses exposures. Bystander effects induce responses at the tissue level, which are similar to generalized stress responses. Most of the work involving low LET radiation exposure discussed in the existing literature measures a death response. Since many cell populations carry damaged cells without being exposed to radiation (so-called "background damage"), it is possible that low doses exposures cause removal of cells carrying potentially problematic lesions, prior to exposure to radiation. This mechanism could lead to the production of "U-shaped" or hormetic dose-response curves. The level of adverse, adaptive or apparently beneficial response will be related to the background damage carried by the original cell population, the level of organization at which damage or harm are scored and the precise definition of "harm". This model may be important when attempting to predict the consequences of mixed exposures involving low doses of radiation and other environmental stressors.
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