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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Cumulative genetic damage in hematopoietic stem cells in a patient with a 40-year exposure to alpha particles emitted by thorium dioxide.

Thorotrast, a colloidal suspension of the long-lived radionuclide, thorium-232, was widely used as a radiographic contrast medium for several decades. Due to the poor excretion of the sol, however, Thorotrast would deposit in the liver, bone marrow and other tissue, and patients would receive alpha-particle irradiation for life. To gauge the cumulative genetic damage to hematopoietic stem cells due to chronic exposure to alpha particles, we conducted a multi-end-point evaluation in a 72-year-old man who had been administered a 32-ml bolus of Thorotrast during cerebral angiography performed over 40 years ago in 1950. Peripheral T lymphocytes were cultured to quantify the frequencies and cellular distributions of asymmetrical and symmetrical types of chromosome aberrations in first-division metaphases and micronuclei in cytokinesis-arrested interphase II cells. Aberrations were scored using classical chromosome group analysis methods and chromosome painting techniques. Assays of glycophorin-A ( GPA) mutations in red blood cells were also performed to obtain a relative measurement of damage sustained by the erythroid stem cell population. Results revealed that approximately 30% of the lymphocytes in this patient contained one or more chromosome aberrations, the majority of which were of the "stable" type. About one-third of the lymphocytes with chromosome damage carried multiple aberrations, suggesting that significant numbers of stem cells survive exposures to alpha-particle radiation that induce complex genomic alterations. Increased frequencies of GPA mutations were observed, demonstrating that genomic damage is also induced in erythroid progenitors. The numbers of micronuclei in lymphocytes were only moderately increased compared to expected values for persons of comparable age, and thus this end point was not useful for quantifying exposure level. Despite the relatively severe burden of somatic cell damage induced by 40 years of internal alpha-particle irradiation, the patient remains surprisingly free of any serious illness.[1]


  1. Cumulative genetic damage in hematopoietic stem cells in a patient with a 40-year exposure to alpha particles emitted by thorium dioxide. Littlefield, L.G., Travis, L.B., Sayer, A.M., Voelz, G.L., Jensen, R.H., Boice, J.D. Radiat. Res. (1997) [Pubmed]
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