Sensitivity of germ cells and embryos to ionizing radiation

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Experiments performed in laboratory animals suggest that ionizing radiation can induce DNA damage in the germ cells of exposed individuals and lead to various deleterious effects in their progeny, including miscarriage, low birth weight, congenital abnormalities and perhaps cancer. However, no clear evidence for such effects has been found in epidemiological studies of people exposed to radiation. The predicted risks of hereditary effects of any kinds resulting from parental exposure to relatively low doses of ionizing radiation remain very low, compared to the spontaneous risks in the absence of irradiation. Irradiation of the mouse embryo can lead to various effects (lethality, growth retardation, congenital abnormalities), depending on the period of gestation at which irradiation occurs. In humans, prenatal irradiation has only been exceptionally associated with congenital abnormalities, but irradiation between weeks 8-25 has been shown to be able to induce severe mental retardation. Although being not proven, the risk of developing a childhood cancer following prenatal irradiation may also not be excluded. Like for genetic effects, the risk of adverse effects following exposure of the embryo to relatively low doses remains quite low compared to the natural risks.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-114
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • ionizing radiation, germ cells, embryos

ID: 3426441