Lethal mutations and genomic instability
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The delayed expression of cell death in progeny of irradiated survivors was christened 'lethal mutations' by Tikvah Alper in 1984. The effect occurs when clones, or populations of cells grown up from irradiated progenitor cells, are replated and reassessed for cloning efficiency or population doubling time. The effect has been shown to be associated with the low dose shoulder region of the survival curve and is due to events occurring in the first two hours post irradiation, i.e. the 'fast repair' period. In this review the lethal mutation data accumulated over the past ten years is discussed in relation to our modern understanding of cellular and molecular events in radiation carcinogenesis and genomic instability research. It is suggested that lethal mutations are associated with a general epigenetic or field effect occurring in all irradiated cells, which makes them more prone to mutations, some of which are lethal. The implications of this for our current approach to risk estimates and therapeutic dose calculation, need to be addressed.
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