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Volume 20, Number 1, 2015

Bystander effects and radiotherapy

Alicia Marín, Margarita Martín, Olga Liñán, Felipe Alvarenga, Mario López, Laura Fernández, David Büchser, Laura Cerezo


Radiation-induced bystander effects are defined as biological effects expressed after irradiation by cells whose nuclei have not been directly irradiated. These effects include DNA damage, chromosomal instability, mutation, and apoptosis. There is considerable evidence that ionizing radiation affects cells located near the site of irradiation, which respond individually and collectively as part of a large interconnected web. These bystander signals can alter the dynamic equilibrium between proliferation, apoptosis, quiescence or differentiation. The aim of this review is to examine the most important biological effects of this phenomenon with regard to areas of major interest in radiotherapy. Such aspects include radiation-induced bystander effects during the cell cycle under hypoxic conditions when administering fractionated modalities or combined radio-chemotherapy. Other relevant aspects include individual variation and genetics in toxicity of bystander factors and normal tissue collateral damage. In advanced radiotherapy techniques, such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), the high degree of dose conformity to the target volume reduces the dose and, therefore, the risk of complications, to normal tissues. However, significant doses can accumulate out-of-field due to photon scattering and this may impact cellular response in these regions. Protons may offer a solution to reduce out-of-field doses. The bystander effect has numerous associated phenomena, including adaptive response, genomic instability, and abscopal effects. Also, the bystander effect can influence radiation protection and oxidative stress. It is essential that we understand the mechanisms underlying the bystander effect in order to more accurately assess radiation risk and to evaluate protocols for cancer radiotherapy.

Signature: Rep Pract Oncol Radiother, 2015; 20(1) : 12-21

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