The lung response to radiation exposure can involve an immediate or early reaction to the radiation challenge, including cell death and an initial immune reaction, and can be followed by a tissue injury response, of pneumonitis or fibrosis, to this acute reaction. Herein, we aimed to determine whether markers of the initial immune response, measured within days of radiation exposure, are correlated with the lung tissue injury responses occurring weeks later.
Inbred strains of mice known to be susceptible (KK/HIJ, C57BL/6J, 129S1/SvImJ) or resistant (C3H/HeJ, A/J, AKR/J) to radiation-induced pulmonary fibrosis and to vary in time to onset of respiratory distress post thoracic irradiation (from 10-23 weeks) were studied. Mice were untreated (controls) or received 18 Gy whole thorax irradiation and were euthanized at 6 h, 1d or 7 d after radiation treatment. Pulmonary CD4+ lymphocytes, bronchoalveolar cell profile & cytokine level, and serum cytokine levels were assayed.
Thoracic irradiation and inbred strain background significantly affected the numbers of CD4+ cells in the lungs and the bronchoalveolar lavage cell differential of exposed mice. At the 7 day timepoint greater numbers of pulmonary Th1 and Th17 lymphocytes and reduced lavage interleukin17 and interferonγ levels were significant predictors of late stage fibrosis. Lavage levels of interleukin-10, measured at the 7 day timepoint, were inversely correlated with fibrosis score (R = -0.80, p = 0.05), while serum levels of interleukin-17 in control mice significantly correlated with post irradiation survival time (R = 0.81, p = 0.04). Lavage macrophage, lymphocyte or neutrophil counts were not significantly correlated with either of fibrosis score or time to respiratory distress in the six mouse strains.
Specific cytokine and lymphocyte levels, but not strain dependent lavage cell profiles, were predictive of later radiation-induced lung injury in this panel of inbred strains.