Ionizing radiation (IR) therapy is a major cancer treatment modality and an indispensable auxiliary treatment for primary and metastatic cancers, but invariably results in debilitating organ dysfunctions. IR-induced depletion of neural stem/progenitor cells in the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus where neurogenesis occurs is considered largely responsible for deficiencies such as learning, memory, and spatial information processing in patients subjected to cranial irradiation. Similarly, IR therapy-induced intestinal injuries such as diarrhea and malabsorption are common side effects in patients with gastrointestinal tumors and are believed to be caused by intestinal stem cell drop out. Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is currently used to reinstate blood production in leukemia patients and pre-clinical treatments show promising results in other organs such as the skin and kidney, but ethical issues and logistic problems make this route difficult to follow. An alternative way to restore the injured tissue is to preserve the stem cell pool located in that specific tissue/organ niche, but stem cell response to ionizing radiation is inadequately understood at the molecular mechanistic level. Although embryonic and fetal hypersensity to IR has been very well known for many decades, research on embryonic stem cell models in culture concerning molecular mechanisms have been largely inconclusive and often in contradiction of the in vivo observations. This review will summarize the latest discoveries on stem cell radiosensitivity, highlighting the possible molecular and epigenetic mechanism(s) involved in DNA damage response and programmed cell death after ionizing radiation therapy specific to normal stem cells. Finally, we will analyze the possible contribution of stem cell-specific chromatin’s epigenetic constitution in promoting normal stem cell radiosensitivity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117
JournalCell Death Discovery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


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