Shorter Exposures to Harder X-Rays Trigger Early Apoptotic Events in Xenopus laevis Embryos

Abstract

Background

A long-standing conventional view of radiation-induced apoptosis is that increased exposure results in augmented apoptosis in a biological system, with a threshold below which radiation doses do not cause any significant increase in cell death. The consequences of this belief impact the extent to which malignant diseases and non-malignant conditions are therapeutically treated and how radiation is used in combination with other therapies. Our research challenges the current dogma of dose-dependent induction of apoptosis and establishes a new parallel paradigm to the photoelectric effect in biological systems.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We explored how the energy of individual X-ray photons and exposure time, both factors that determine the total dose, influence the occurrence of cell death in early Xenopus embryo. Three different experimental scenarios were analyzed and morphological and biochemical hallmarks of apoptosis were evaluated. Initially, we examined cell death events in embryos exposed to increasing incident energies when the exposure time was preset. Then, we evaluated the embryo's response when the exposure time was augmented while the energy value remained constant. Lastly, we studied the incidence of apoptosis in embryos exposed to an equal total dose of radiation that resulted from increasing the incoming energy while lowering the exposure time.

Conclusions/Significance

Overall, our data establish that the energy of the incident photon is a major contributor to the outcome of the biological system. In particular, for embryos exposed under identical conditions and delivered the same absorbed dose of radiation, the response is significantly increased when shorter bursts of more energetic photons are used. These results suggest that biological organisms display properties similar to the photoelectric effect in physical systems and provide new insights into how radiation-mediated apoptosis should be understood and utilized for therapeutic purposes.

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