Radiation damage on sub-cellular scales: beyond DNA
This study investigates a model cell as a target for low-dose radiation using Monte Carlo simulations. Mono-energetic electrons and photons are used with initial energies between 10 and 50 keV, relevant to out-of-field radiotherapy scenarios where modern treatment modalities expose relatively large amounts of healthy tissue to low-dose radiation, and also to microbeam cell irradiation studies which show the importance of the cytoplasm as a radiation target. The relative proportions of number of ionizations and total energy deposit in the nucleus and cytoplasm are calculated. We show that for a macroscopic dose of no more than 1 Gy only a few hundred ionizations occur in the nucleus volume whereas the number of ionizations in the cytoplasm is over a magnitude larger. We find that the cell geometry can have an appreciable effect on the energy deposit in the cell and can cause a nonlinear increase in energy deposit with cytoplasm density. We also show that changing the nucleus volume has negligible effect on the total energy deposit but alters the relative proportion deposited in the nucleus and cytoplasm; the nucleus volume must increase to approximately the same volume as the cytoplasm before the energy deposit in the nucleus matches that in the cytoplasm. Additionally we find that energy deposited by electrons is generally insensitive to spatial variations in chemical composition, which can be attributed to negligible differences in electron stopping power for cytoplasm and nucleus materials. On the other hand, we find that chemical composition can affect energy deposited by photons due to non-negligible differences in attenuation coefficients. These results are of relevance in considering radiation effects in healthy cells, which tend to have smaller nuclei. Our results further show that the cytoplasm and organelles residing therein can be important targets for low-dose radiation damage in healthy cells and warrant investigation as much as the conventional focus of a high-dose radiation DNA target in tumour cells.