Radon and its progenies contribute significantly to the natural background radiation and cause several thousands of lung cancer cases per year worldwide. Moreover, patients with chronic inflammatory joint diseases are treated in radon galleries. Due to the complex nature of radon exposure, the doses associated with radon exposures are difficult to assess. Hence, there is a clear need to directly measure dose depositions from radon exposures to provide reliable risk estimates for radiation protection guidelines.
We aimed to assess tissue-specific radiation doses associated with radon activity concentrations which deposit similar dose levels as the annual natural radon exposure or radon gallery visits.
We exposed mice to defined radon concentrations, quantified the number of 53BP1 foci as a measure of induced DNA damage and compared it with the number of foci induced by known doses of reference-type radiations. An image-based analysis of the 3-dimensional foci pattern provided information about the radiation type inflicting the DNA damage.
A 1-h exposure to 440 kBq/m radon induced DNA damage corresponding to a dose of ∼10 mGy in the lung and ∼3.3 mGy in the kidney, the heart and the liver. A 1-h exposure to 44 kBq/m provided values consistent with a linear relationship between dose and radon concentration. Two-thirds of the dose in the lung was caused by α-particles. The dose in the kidney, heart and liver and one-third of the dose in the lung likely resulted from β- and γ-rays.
We found that radon exposures mainly lead to α-particle-induced DNA damage in the lung, consistent with the lung cancer risk obtained in epidemiological studies. Our presented biodosimetric approach can be used to benchmark risk model calculations for radiation protection guidelines and can help to understand the therapeutic success of radon gallery treatments.

Copyright © 2020 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.