It is well known that mammalian cells exposed to ionizing radiation can show different types of chromosome aberrations (CAs) including dicentrics, translocations, rings, deletions and complex exchanges. Chromosome aberrations are a particularly relevant endpoint in radiobiology, because they play a fundamental role in the pathways leading either to cell death, or to cell conversion to malignancy. In particular, reciprocal translocations involving pairs of specific genes are strongly correlated (and probably also causally-related) with specific tumour types; a typical example is the BCR-ABL translocation for Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia. Furthermore, aberrations can be used for applications in biodosimetry and more generally as biomarkers of exposure and risk, that is the case for cancer patients monitored during Carbon-ion therapy and astronauts exposed to space radiation. Indeed hadron therapy and astronauts’ exposure to space radiation represent two of the few scenarios were human beings can be exposed to heavy ions. After a brief introduction on the main general features of chromosome aberrations, in this work we will address key aspects of the current knowledge on chromosome aberration induction, both from an experimental and from a theoretical point of view. More specifically, in vitro data will be summarized and discussed, outlining important issues such as the role of interphase death/mitotic delay and that of complex-exchange scoring. Some available in vivo data on cancer patients and astronauts will be also reported, together with possible interpretation problems. Finally, two of the few available models of chromosome aberration induction by ionizing radiation (including heavy ions) will be described and compared, focusing on the different assumptions adopted by the authors and on how these models can deal with heavy ions.
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