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Identification of gene-based responses in human blood cells exposed to alpha particle radiation

Vinita Chauhan*, Matthew Howland and Ruth Wilkins

Author Affiliations

Consumer and Clinical Radiation Protection Bureau, Healthy Environment and Consumer Safety Branch, Health Canada, 775 Brookfield Road, PL 6303B, Ottawa, ON K1A 1C1, Canada

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BMC Medical Genomics 2014, 7:43  doi:10.1186/1755-8794-7-43

Published: 12 July 2014



The threat of a terrorist-precipitated nuclear event places humans at danger for radiological exposures. Isotopes which emit alpha (α)-particle radiation pose the highest risk. Currently, gene expression signatures are being developed for radiation biodosimetry and triage with respect to ionizing photon radiation. This study was designed to determine if similar gene expression profiles are obtained after exposures involving α-particles.


Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were used to identify sensitive and robust gene-based biomarkers of α-particle radiation exposure. Cells were isolated from healthy individuals and were irradiated at doses ranging from 0-1.5 Gy. Microarray technology was employed to identify transcripts that were differentially expressed relative to unirradiated cells 24 hours post-exposure. Statistical analysis identified modulated genes at each of the individual doses.


Twenty-nine genes were common to all doses with expression levels ranging from 2-10 fold relative to control treatment group. This subset of genes was further assessed in independent complete white blood cell (WBC) populations exposed to either α-particles or X-rays using quantitative real-time PCR. This 29 gene panel was responsive in the α-particle exposed WBCs and was shown to exhibit differential fold-changes compared to X-irradiated cells, though no α-particle specific transcripts were identified.


Current gene panels for photon radiation may also be applicable for use in α-particle radiation biodosimetry.

α-particles; Gene expression; Leukocytes