Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Life Sciences

Major Professor

Brynn H. Voy

Committee Members

Mitchel J. Doktycz, Stephen J. Kennel, Hayes W. McDonald


High doses of radiation (HDR) are clearly detrimental to human health, but relatively little is known about the health consequences following exposure to low doses of radiation (LDR, <10cGy). Understanding the risks associated with LDR is of great importance to the general public due to the recent dramatic increase in diagnostic radiological imaging. While HDR clearly suppress immune function, there is evidence that LDR can be immunostimulatory. Within the organism, defining the consequences of LDR is further complicated by the impact of genetic background, particularly in systems such as the immune system for which both radiosensitivity and genetic effects are profound.

We addressed the issue of genetic susceptibility to LDR using the immune system as a target system and treated the LDR response as a complex trait analyzed using a systems genetics framework. Using the BXD recombinant inbred strain mouse panel as a genetic reference population allowed us to address the radiation response within the context of natural genetic variation. Our overarching hypothesis is that, within a population, the immunological effects of LDR exposure depend in part on the individual’s baseline immunoprofile and gene expression which are ultimately dependent upon genetic background. We began by establishing the immunophenotypic variation (i.e., T:B cell ratio, CD4:CD8 ratio) within the BXD panel and used baseline spleen transcriptome profiling to identify putative candidate genes controlling these traits, specifically Acp1 and Ptprk for CD4:CD8 ratio. The same set of BXD strains was exposed to LDR (10cGy gamma radiation) to determine effects on immune function and oxidative stress. LDR significantly enhanced neutrophil phagocytosis in a manner that was independent of genetic background. In contrast, genetic background significantly impacted LDR-induced changes in spleen superoxide dismutase activity.

By integrating these results with our previous analyses of BXD RI strains, we have demonstrated that baseline expression of Sod2 correlates with LDR-induced SOD activity, and baseline CD4:CD8 ratio is inversely correlated with LDR-induced neutrophil phagocytosis. In addition, spleen transcriptomic data from the BXD parental strains further highlighted the impact of genetic background on LDR responses. These data provide the groundwork for predicting LDR responses using baseline expression, immunophenotypes, and/or genotype.

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