Individual response of humans to ionising radiation: governing factors and importance for radiological protection

K. E. Applegate, W. Rühm, A. Wojcik, M. Bourguignon, A. Brenner, K. Hamasaki, T. Imai, M. Imaizumi, T. Imaoka, S. Kakinuma, T. Kamada, N. Nishimura, N. Okonogi, K. Ozasa, C. E. Rübe, A. Sadakane, R. Sakata, Y. Shimada, K. Yoshida & S. Bouffler


Tissue reactions and stochastic effects after exposure to ionising radiation are variable between individuals but the factors and mechanisms governing individual responses are not well understood. Individual responses can be measured at different levels of biological organization and using different endpoints following varying doses of radiation, including: cancers, non-cancer diseases and mortality in the whole organism; normal tissue reactions after exposures; and, cellular endpoints such as chromosomal damage and molecular alterations. There is no doubt that many factors influence the responses of people to radiation to different degrees. In addition to the obvious general factors of radiation quality, dose, dose rate and the tissue (sub)volume irradiated, recognized and potential determining factors include age, sex, life style (e.g., smoking, diet, possibly body mass index), environmental factors, genetics and epigenetics, stochastic distribution of cellular events, and systemic comorbidities such as diabetes or viral infections. Genetic factors are commonly thought to be a substantial contributor to individual response to radiation. Apart from a small number of rare monogenic diseases such as ataxia telangiectasia, the inheritance of an abnormally responsive phenotype among a population of healthy individuals does not follow a classical Mendelian inheritance pattern. Rather it is considered to be a multi-factorial, complex trait.