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Professor Yosuke Kanai has recently published a paper in Physical Review Letters (PRL), the issue 11/2023, which has been selected as an Editor’s Suggestion and featured in Physics Magazine of the American Physical Society (APS).

This week’s issue of Physical Review Letters (PRL) features the article “Electronic Excitation Response of DNA to High-energy Proton Radiation in Water” by Professor Yosuke Kanai, Dr. Dillon Yost, and Mr. Chris Shepard as its co-authors. Professor Yosuke Kanai is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in addition to being a Professor in the Department of Chemistry at UNC.

Understanding the radiation-induced response of DNA is pivotal for human health. The electronic excitation induced in DNA by high-energy protons is central to understanding how DNA damage occurs in extreme conditions such as those experienced by astronauts. For instance, as much as 90% of galactic cosmic radiation (GCR) is high-energy protons, and human exposure to GCR is a great concern for space missions. The electronic response of DNA to high-energy protons is also the foundation of modern proton beam cancer therapy. The energy transfer rate from irradiating protons to electrons in the target matter is quantified by so-called electronic stopping power, and it plays a central role in understanding the electronic stopping phenomenon. Starting with the seminal work by Hans Bethe in 1930, many researchers have developed linear-response models for calculating the electronic stopping power. Over the last ten years, Prof. Kanai’s group has developed a new computational formalism such that quantum dynamics responsible for electronic stopping is directly simulated from first-principles quantum mechanical theory[1]. Building on their earlier work on water[2], the new PRL discusses how sugar-phosphate side chains of DNA respond strongly to irradiating protons due to the lone-pair electrons when DNA is solvated in water. As a result, positively charged holes are formed with a greater probability on the DNA side chains than on the nucleobases. This work advances our understanding of how the exposure of DNA to highly energetic protons can result in double-strand breaks in DNA, which are particularly important in inducing cell death.


[1] First-Principles Modeling of Electronic Stopping in Complex Matter under Ion Irradiation

  1. C. Yost, Y. Yao, Y. Kanai
  2. Phys. Chem. Lett. 11, 229 (2020)
[2] K-shell Core Electronic Excitation in Electronic Stopping of Protons in Water from First Principles

  1. Yao, D. Yost, Y. Kanai, Phys. Rev. Lett., 123, 066401 (2019)
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