Ionizing radiation effects on the tumor microenvironment

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The broad use of radiotherapy (RT) in the management of solid human tumors is based on its ability to damage cellular macromolecules, particularly the DNA, effectively inducing growth arrest and cell death locally in irradiated tumor cells. However, bystander effects, such as the transmission of lethal signals between cells via gap junctions or the production of diffusible cytotoxic mediators, can also contribute to the local antineoplastic action of RT. Traditionally, RT has been considered to exert immunosuppressive effects on the host. This idea largely stems from the radiosensitivity of quiescent lymphocytes and on the use of total body irradiation as part of myeloablative conditioning regimens preceding hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Additionally, the occurrence of the so-called “abscopal effect,” where nonirradiated distant lesions display effects of RT response, suggests that RT may also induce tumor immunization. Several RT-induced effects on cancer, immune and stromal cells, contribute to the abscopal effect: (1) induction of “immunogenic cell death”, with release of tumor-associated antigens, (2) alterations of cancer cell immunophenotype, and (3) modulation of the tumor microenvironment. Damage and death of cancer cells leads to the surface exposure of immunogenic molecules as well as the release of damage associated molecular patterns such as adenosine triphosphate or High-Mobility-Group-Protein B1, and potentially tumor antigens that activate the innate and adaptive immune systems. Moreover, nuclear release and cytoplasmic sensing of altered nucleic acids via cyclic GMP-AMP Synthase/Stimulator of Interferon Genes is connected to the secretion of cytokines that support innate and adaptive antitumor immunity. As a result of the above, irradiated tumor cells may potentially act as an “in situ vaccine.”

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)254-260
Number of pages7
JournalSeminars in Oncology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2019


  • Adenosine
  • CXCL12
  • Hypoxia
  • MDSCs
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology


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