The current framework of radiological protection of occupational exposed medical workers reduced the eye-lens equivalent dose limit from 150 to 20 mSv per year requiring an accurate dosimetric evaluation and an increase understanding of radiation induced effects on Lens cells considering the typical scenario of occupational exposed medical operators. Indeed, it is widely accepted that genomic damage of Lens epithelial cells (LEC) is a key mechanism of cataractogenesis. However, the relationship between apoptosis and cataractogenesis is still controversial. In this study biological and physical data are combined to improve the understanding of radiation induced effects on LEC. To characterize the occupational exposure of medical workers during angiographic procedures an INNOVA 4100 (General Electric Healthcare) equipment was used (scenario A). Additional experiments were conducted using a research tube (scenario B). For both scenarios, the frequencies of binucleated cells, micronuclei, p21-positive cells were assessed with different doses and dose rates. A Monte-Carlo study was conducted using a model for the photon generation with the X-ray tubes and with the Petri dishes considering the two different scenarios (A and B) to reproduce the experimental conditions and validate the irradiation setups to the cells. The simulation results have been tallied using the Monte Carlo code MCNP6. The spectral characteristics of the different X-ray beams have been estimated. All irradiated samples showed frequencies of micronuclei and p21-positive cells higher than the unirradiated controls. Differences in frequencies increased with the delivered dose measured with Gafchromic films XR-RV3. The spectrum incident on eye lens and Petri, as estimated with MCNP6, was in good agreement in the scenario A (confirming the experimental setup), while the mean energy spectrum was higher in the scenario B. Nevertheless, the response of LEC seemed mainly related to the measured absorbed dose. No effects on viability were detected. Our results support the hypothesis that apoptosis is not responsible for cataract induced by low doses of X-ray (i.e. 25 mGy) while the induction of transient p21 may interfere with the disassembly of the nuclear envelop in differentiating LEC, leading to cataract formation. Further studies are needed to better clarify the relationship we suggested between DNA damage, transient p21 induction and the inability of LEC enucleation.
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