Combined analysis of Gamma-H2AX/53BP1 foci and caspase activation in lymphocyte subsets detects recent and more remote radiation exposures

Simon Horn*, Stephen Barnard, Darren Brady, Kevin M. Prise, Kai Rothkamm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Analysis of gamma-H2AX foci in blood lymphocytes is a promising approach for rapid dose estimation to support patient triage after a radiation accident but has one major drawback: the rapid decline of foci levels post-exposure cause major uncertainties in situations where the exact timing between exposure and blood sampling is unknown. To address this issue, radiation-induced apoptosis (RIA) in lymphocytes was investigated using fluorogenic inhibitors of caspases (FLICA) as an independent biomarker for radiation exposure, which may complement the gamma-H2AX assay. Ex vivo X-irradiated peripheral blood lymphocytes from 17 volunteers showed dose-and time-dependent increases in radiation-induced apoptosis over the first 3 days after exposure, albeit with considerable interindividual variation. Comparison with gamma-H2AX and 53BP1 foci counts suggested an inverse correlation between numbers of residual foci and radiation-induced apoptosis in lymphocytes at 24 h postirradiation (P = 0.007). In T-helper (CD4), T-cytotoxic (CD8) and B-cells (CD19), some significant differences in radiation induced DSBs or apoptosis were observed, however no correlation between foci and apoptosis in lymphocyte subsets was observed at 24 h postirradiation. While gamma-H2AX and 53BP1 foci were rapidly induced and then repaired after exposure, radiation-induced apoptosis did not become apparent until 24 h after exposure. Data from six volunteers with different ex vivo doses and post-exposure times were used to test the capability of the combined assay. Results show that simultaneous analysis of gamma-H2AX and radiation-induced apoptosis may provide a rapid and more accurate triage tool in situations where the delay between exposure and blood sampling is unknown compared to gamma-H2AX alone. This combined approach may improve the accuracy of dose estimations in cases where blood sampling is performed days after the radiation exposure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)603-609
Number of pages7
JournalRadiation Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


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