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Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a common malignancy that develops in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses and mouth, and is mostly treated with a combination of chemo- and radiotherapy (RT). The main goal of RT is to kill enough of the cancer cell population, whilst preserving the surrounding normal and healthy tissue. The mechanisms by which conventional photon RT achieves this have been extensively studied over several decades, but little is known about the cell death pathways that are activated in response to RT of increasing linear energy transfer (LET), including proton beam therapy and heavy ions. Here, we provide an up-to-date review on the observed radiobiological effects of low- versus high-LET RT in HNSCC cell models, particularly in the context of specific cell death mechanisms, including apoptosis, necrosis, autophagy, senescence and mitotic death. We also detail some of the current therapeutic strategies targeting cell death pathways that have been investigated to enhance the radiosensitivity of HNSCC cells in response to RT, including those that may present with clinical opportunities for eventual patient benefit.
Spatially fractionated radiation therapy (SFRT) challenges some of the classical dogmas in conventional radiotherapy. The highly modulated spatial dose distributions in SFRT have been shown to lead, both in early clinical trials and in small animal experiments, to a significant increase in normal tissue dose tolerances. Tumour control effectiveness is maintained or even enhanced in some configurations as compared with conventional radiotherapy. SFRT seems to activate distinct radiobiological mechanisms, which have been postulated to involve bystander effects, microvascular alterations and/or immunomodulation. Currently, it is unclear which is the dosimetric parameter which correlates the most with both tumour control and normal tissue sparing in SFRT. Additional biological experiments aiming at parametrizing the relationship between the irradiation parameters (beam width, spacing, peak-to-valley dose ratio, peak and valley doses) and the radiobiology are needed. A sound knowledge of the interrelation between the physical parameters in SFRT and the biological response would expand its clinical use, with a higher level of homogenisation in the realisation of clinical trials. This manuscript reviews the state of the art of this promising therapeutic modality, the current radiobiological knowledge and elaborates on future perspectives.
Immunotherapy and targeted therapy are now commonly used in clinical trials in combination with radiotherapy for several cancers. While results are promising and encouraging, the molecular mechanisms of the interaction between the drugs and radiation remain largely unknown. This is especially important when switching from conventional photon therapy to particle therapy using protons or heavier ions. Different dose deposition patterns and molecular radiobiology can in fact modify the interaction with drugs and their effectiveness. We will show here that whilst the main molecular players are the same after low and high linear energy transfer radiation exposure, significant differences are observed in post-exposure signalling pathways that may lead to different effects of the drugs. We will also emphasise that the problem of the timing between drug administration and radiation and the fractionation regime are critical issues that need to be addressed urgently to achieve optimal results in combined treatments with particle therapy.
FLASH radiotherapy is a novel technique that has been shown in numerous preclinical in vivo studies to have the potential to be the next important improvement in cancer treatment. However, the biological mechanisms responsible for the selective FLASH sparing effect of normal tissues are not yet known. An optimal translation of FLASH radiotherapy into the clinic would require a good understanding of the specific beam parameters that induces a FLASH effect, environmental conditions affecting the response, and the radiobiological mechanisms involved. Even though the FLASH effect has generally been considered as an in vivo effect, studies finding these answers would be difficult and ethically challenging to carry out solely in animals. Hence, suitable in vitro studies aimed towards finding these answers are needed. In this review, we describe and summarise several in vitro assays that have been used or could be used to finally elucidate the mechanisms behind the FLASH effect.
Boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT) is a tumour selective particle radiotherapy, based on the administration of boron carriers incorporated preferentially by tumour cells, followed by irradiation with a thermal or epithermal neutron beam. BNCT clinical results to date show therapeutic efficacy, associated with an improvement in patient quality of life and prolonged survival. Translational research in adequate experimental models is necessary to optimise BNCT for different pathologies. This review recapitulates some examples of BNCT radiobiological studies for different pathologies and clinical scenarios, strategies to optimise boron targeting, enhance BNCT therapeutic effect and minimise radiotoxicity. It also describes the radiobiological mechanisms induced by BNCT, and the importance of the detection of biomarkers to monitor and predict the therapeutic efficacy and toxicity of BNCT alone or combined with other strategies. Besides, there is a brief comment on the introduction of accelerator-based neutron sources in BNCT. These sources would expand the clinical BNCT services to more patients, and would help to make BNCT a standard treatment modality for various types of cancer. Radiobiological BNCT studies have been of utmost importance to make progress in BNCT, being essential to design novel, safe and effective clinical BNCT protocols.
DNA damage and repair studies are at the core of the radiation biology field and represent also the fundamental principles informing radiation therapy (RT). DNA damage levels are a function of radiation dose, whereas the type of damage and biological effects such as DNA damage complexity, depend on radiation quality that is linear energy transfer (LET). Both levels and types of DNA damage determine cell fate, which can include necrosis, apoptosis, senescence or autophagy. Herein, we present an overview of current RT modalities in the light of DNA damage and repair with emphasis on medium to high-LET radiation. Proton radiation is discussed along with its new adaptation of FLASH RT. RT based on α-particles includes brachytherapy and nuclear-RT, that is proton-boron capture therapy (PBCT) and boron-neutron capture therapy (BNCT). We also discuss carbon ion therapy along with combinatorial immune-based therapies and high-LET RT. For each RT modality, we summarise relevant DNA damage studies. Finally, we provide an update of the role of DNA repair in high-LET RT and we explore the biological responses triggered by differential LET and dose.
Ionising radiotherapy is a well-established, effective cancer treatment modality, whose efficacy has improved with the application of newer technological modalities. However, patient outcomes are governed and potentially limited by aspects of tumour biology that are associated with radioresistance. Patients also still endure treatment-associated toxicities owed to the action of ionising radiation in normoxic tissue adjacent to the tumour mass. Tumour hypoxia is recognised as a key component of the tumour microenvironment and is well established as leading to therapy resistance and poor prognosis. In this review, we outline the current understanding of hypoxia-mediated radiotherapy resistance, before exploring targeting tumour hypoxia for radiotherapy sensitisation to improve treatment outcomes and increase the therapeutic window. This includes increasing oxygen availability in solid tumours, the use of hypoxia-activated prodrugs, targeting of hypoxia-regulated or associated signalling pathways, as well as the use of high-LET radiotherapy modalities. Ultimately, targeting hypoxic radiobiology combined with precise radiotherapy delivery modalities and modelling should be associated with improvement to patient outcomes.