There are a number of studies that show radiation can cause heritable mutations in the offspring of irradiated organisms. These “germ-line mutations” have been shown to occur in unique sequences of DNA called “minisatellite loci”. The high frequencies of spontaneous and induced mutations at minisatellite loci allow mutation induction to be measured at low doses of exposure in a small population, making minisatellite mutation a powerful tool to investigate radiation-induced heritable mutations. However, the biological significance of these mutations is uncertain, and their relationship to health risk or population fitness is unknown. We have adopted this mutation assay to study the role of adaptive response in protecting mice against radiation-induced heritable defects. We have shown that male mice, adapted to radiation with a low dose priming exposure, do not pass on mutations to their offspring caused by a subsequent large radiation exposure to the adapted males. This presentation and paper provide a general overview of radiation-induced mutations in offspring and explain the effect of low dose exposures and the adaptive response on these mutations.
It is also known that exposure of pregnant females to high doses of radiation can cause death or malformation (teratogenesis) in developing fetuses. Malformation can only occur during a specialized stage of organ formation known as organogenesis. Studies in rodents show that radiation-induced fetal death and malformation can be significantly reduced when a pregnant female is exposed to a prior low dose of ionizing radiation. The mechanism of this protective effect, through an adaptive response, depends on the stage of organogenesis when the low dose exposures are delivered. To better understand this process, we have investigated the role of an important gene known as p53. Therefore, this report will also discuss fetal effects of ionizing radiation and explain the critical stages of development when fetuses are at risk. Research will be explained that investigates the biological and genetic systems (p53) that protect the developing fetus and discuss the role of low dose radiation adaptive response in these processes.