Germline minisatellite mutations in survivors of childhood and young adult cancer treated with radiation.
A single accidental event such as the fallout released from the Chernobyl reactor in 1986 can expose millions of people to non-natural environmental radiation. Ionizing radiation increases the frequency of germline mutations in experimental studies, but the genetic effects of radiation in humans remain largely undefined. To evaluate the hereditary effects of low radiation doses, we compared the minisatellite mutation rates of 155 children born to Estonian Chernobyl cleanup workers after the accident with those of their siblings born prior to it. All together, 94 de novo paternal minisatellite mutations were found at eight tested loci (52 and 42 mutants among children born after and before the accident, respectively). The minisatellite mutation rate was nonsignificantly increased among children born after the accident (0.042 compared to 0.036, OR 1.33, 95% CI 0.80-2.20). Furthermore, there was some indication of an increased mutation rate among offspring born after the accident to workers who had received doses of 20 cSv or above compared with their siblings born before the accident (OR 3.0, 95% CI 0.97-9.30). The mutation rate was not associated with the father's age (OR 1.04, 95% CI 0.94-1.15) or the sex of the child (OR 0.95, 95% CI 0.50-1.79). Our results are consistent with both no effect of radiation on minisatellite mutations and a slight increase at dose levels exceeding 20 cSv.