Carbon ion radiotherapy shows great potential as a cure for X-ray-resistant tumors. Basic research suggests that the strong cell-killing effect induced by carbon ions is based on their ability to cause complex DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). However, evidence supporting the formation of complex DSBs in actual patients is lacking. Here, we used advanced high-resolution microscopy with deconvolution to show that complex DSBs are formed in a human tumor clinically treated with carbon ion radiotherapy, but not in a tumor treated with X-ray radiotherapy. Furthermore, analysis using a physics model suggested that the complexity of radiotherapy-induced DSBs is related to linear energy transfer, which is much higher for carbon ion beams than for X-rays. Visualization of complex DSBs in clinical specimens will help us to understand the anti-tumor effects of carbon ion radiotherapy.
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