Solar particle events (SPEs) present a major radiation-related risk for manned exploratory missions in deep space. Within a short period the astronauts may absorb doses that engender acute effects, in addition to the risk of late effects, such as the induction of cancer. Using primary human cells, we studied clonogenic survival and the induction of neoplastic transformation after exposure to a worst case scenario SPE. We simulated such an SPE with monoenergetic protons (50, 100, 1000 MeV) delivered at a dose rate of 1.65 cGy min−1 in a dose range from 0 to 3 Gy. For comparison, we exposed the cells to a high dose rate of 33.3 cGy min−1. X rays (100 kVp, 8 mA, 1.7 mm Al filter) were used as a reference radiation. Overall, we observed a significant sparing effect of the SPE dose rate on cell survival. High-dose-rate protons were also more efficient in induction of transformation in the dose range below 30 cGy. However, as dose accumulated at high dose rate, the transformation levels declined, while at the SPE dose rate, the number of transformants continued to increase up to about 1 Gy. These findings suggest that considering dose-rate effects may be important in evaluating the biological effects of exposure to space radiation. Our analyses of the data based on particle fluence showed that lethality and transforming potential per particle clearly increased with increasing linear energy transfer (LET) and thus with the decreasing energy of protons. Further, we found that the biological response was determined not only by LET but also type of radiation, e.g. particles and photons. This suggests that using γ or X rays may not be ideal for assessing risk associated with SPE exposures.
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Vol. 176 • No. 2