Safwat, A. The Immunobiology of Low-Dose Total-Body Irradiation: More Questions than Answers.
Low-dose total-body irradiation (TBI) is used in the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia and low-grade non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The usual practice is to give very low individual fractions (0.1 to 0.25 Gy) several times a week, to a total dose of 1.5 to 2 Gy. Despite this low dose, low-dose TBI can induce long-term remissions in the majority of patients. Immune enhancement, rather than direct radiation cell killing, is one of the suggested mechanisms by which low-dose TBI can exert its effect. Data from animal experiments have shown that low-dose TBI could enhance the immune response through (1) augmenting the proliferative reactive response of the T cells to mitogenic stimulation; (2) altering cytokine release, particularly the activation of interferon γ and Il2 production; (3) increasing the expression of Il2 receptors on the T-cell surface; (4) facilitating signal transduction in T lymphocytes; (5) increasing splenic catecholamine content and lowering the serum corticosterone level; and (6) eliminating a particularly radiosensitive subset of the suppressor T cells. Data for humans, though scarce, suggest that at least some of these mechanisms occur in patients treated with low-dose TBI. Whether these immunomodulatory effects are responsible for the clinical outcome is not yet clear. Much is still unknown about the immunobiology of low-dose TBI, its clinical potential, and the possible synergism with chemotherapy, biological response modifiers, or immunotherapy. This lack of comprehensive knowledge hampers the optimal and widespread use of this intriguing and potentially useful treatment modality in clinical practice.