Aims Invasive cardiologists are the most exposed to ionizing radiation among health professionals and show an increased rate of somatic DNA damage. To evaluate the effects of chronic low-dose exposure to ionizing radiation on redox state and apoptotic activation.
Methods and results We enrolled 10 healthy exposed professionals (all interventional cardiologists, Group II, exposed: age = 38 ± 5 years) and 10 age- and gender-matched unexposed controls (Group I, non-exposed). Exposed subjects had a median exposure of 4 mSv/year (range 1–8) by film badge dosimetry (below lead apron). We measured reduced glutathione (GSH, a marker of antioxidant response) in erythrocytes and plasma generation of hydrogen peroxide (a marker of oxyradical stress) by ferrous oxidation-xylenol orange assay in plasma. In both groups, lymphocytes were isolated and caspase-3 activity (a marker of apoptotic response) measured at baseline and following 2 Gy in vitro irradiation. Exposed subjects showed a three-fold increase in hydrogen peroxide (Group I = 2.21 ± 1.03 vs. II = 6.51 ± 1.55 μM H2O2 equivalents) and a 1.7-fold increase in GSH (I = 12.37 ± 1.22 vs. II = 20.61 ± 2.16 mM). Exposed subjects also showed higher values of caspase-3 activity, both at baseline and—more strikingly—following high-dose radiation challenge.
Conclusion In interventional cardiologists, chronic exposure to low-dose radiation is associated with an altered redox balance mirrored by an increase in hydrogen peroxide and with two possibly adaptive cellular responses: (i) an enhanced antioxidant defence (increase in GSH, counteracting increased oxyradical stress) and (ii) an increased susceptibility to apoptotic induction which might efficiently remove genetically damaged cells.