The effects of x-irradiation have been quantitatively studied on single cells of a human cervical carcinoma (HeLa) under conditions such that 100 per cent of the unirradiated cells reproduce in isolation to form macroscopic colonies. This technique eliminates complexities due to interactions of members of large cell populations.
Survival of single cells (defined as the ability to form a macroscopic colony within 15 days) yields a typical 2 hit curve when plotted against x-ray dose. The initial shoulder extends to about 75 r, after which a linear logarithmic survival rate is obtained, in which the dose needed to reduce survivors to 37 per cent is 96 r. This radiation sensitivity is tens to hundreds of times greater than that of any microorganism for which the equivalent function bas been studied.
Evidence, though not proof, is presented that the lethal effect is due to a radiation-induced genetic defect which, however, cannot be a simple single gene inactivation. The locus of the action could be chromosomal.
Beginning at doses of 100 r, or possibly earlier, growth-delaying effects of radiation are visible.
Cells in which the ability to reproduce has been destroyed by doses below 800 r, can still multiply several times. At higher doses even a single cell division is precluded.
A large proportion of the cells killed by radiation at any dose gives rise to one or more giant cells. These metabolize actively, grow to huge proportions but never reproduce under the experimental conditions employed. Methods of preparing large populations of giant cells are described. These giants are particularly susceptible to virus action.
Some of the irradiated cells disappear from the plate, presumably by disintegration. This action of radiation is by far the least efficient, since even after 10,000 r, 5 to 10 per cent of the original cell inoculum is recoverable as giants.