The purpose of this study was to investigate the radiation dose enhancement effects of gadolinium-doped zinc oxide nanoparticles (Gd-doped ZnO NPs) under the megavoltage (MV) X-ray irradiation. ZnO NPs have preferred photocatalytic properties under UV light for cancer killing. UV light has limited applications in cancer treatment and it is necessary to use X-ray photons with MV energies. In order to increase the absorption of radiation and also to enhance the imaging visualization capabilities of ZnO NPs, gadolinium (Gd) as a high atomic number element was selected for doping into the structure of ZnO NPs. Gd-doped ZnO NPs were synthesized by a chemical precipitation method and characterized by transmission electron microscopy, powder X-ray diffraction, ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy, and energy-dispersive X-ray techniques. Cellular uptake was assessed by TEM and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. NPs cytotoxicity was analyzed by MTT assay and radiation dose enhancement was measured by clonogenic survival assay. Apoptosis induction, cell cycle progression, micronucleus formation and expression of DNA double-strand break repair genes of XRCC2 and XRCC4 were determined by flow cytometry, micronucleus assay, and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction. CT and MR imaging were used to analyze the image visualization capabilities of NPs. NPs characterization showed that highly pure crystalline Gd-doped ZnO NPs with a narrow size distribution and grain size of 9 nm were synthesized. Gd-doped ZnO NPs were distributed in the cells and showed dose-dependent toxicity. Combination of Gd-doped ZnO NPs with 6 MV X-rays induced dose-dependent radiosensitivity with sensitizer enhancement ratios (SER) of 1.47 and 1.61 for 10 and 20 μg/mL NPs concentrations. Cancer cells blocked in G1, apoptosis rates, and micronuclei formation was enhanced and inversely, the DNA repair efficiency was impaired by down regulation of the mRNA levels of XRCC2 and XRCC4 genes. Gd-doped ZnO NPs enhanced the contrasts of CT and MR images of cancer cells. Overall, the results of this study provide detailed biological insights on the dose enhancement of Gd-doped ZnO NPs at MV radiations, which would contribute to the further development of this potent theranostic platform for clinical applications.
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