Regional and organ-level responses to local lung irradiation in sheep

David Collie, Steven H. Wright, Jorge del-Pozo, Elaine Kay, Tobias Schwarz, Magdalena Parys, Jessica Lawrence

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Lung is a dose-limiting organ in radiotherapy. This may limit tumour control when effort is made in planning to limit the likelihood of radiation-induced lung injury (RILI). Understanding the factors that dictate susceptibility to radiation-induced pulmonary fibrosis will aid in the prevention and management of RILI, and may lead to more effective personalized radiotherapy treatment. As the interaction of regional and organ-level responses may shape the chronic consequences of RILI, we sought to characterise both aspects of the response in an ovine model. A defined volume of left pulmonary parenchyma was prescribed 5 fractions of 6 Gy within 14 days while the contralateral lung dose was constrained. Radiographic changes via computed tomography (CT) were documented to define differences in radio-exposed lung relative to non-exposed lung at d21, d63 and d171 (n = 2), and at d21, d147 and d227 (n = 2). Gross and histologic lung changes were evaluated in samples derived at necropsy examination to define the chronic pulmonary response to radiation. Irradiated lung demonstrated reduced radio-density and increased homogeneity as evidenced from texture based radiomic feature analysis, relative to the control lung. At necropsy, the radiation field was readily defined by pallor on the pleural surface, which was also evident on the cut surface of fixed lung specimens. The degree and homogeneity of pallor reflected the sparse presence of erythrocytes in alveolar septal capillaries of radiation-exposed lung. These changes contrasted with dilated and congested microvasculature in the contralateral control lung. Referencing data to measurements made in control lung volumes of sheep experiencing acute RILI indicated that interstitial collagen continues to deposit in the radio-exposed lung field. Overall lung vascularity increased during the chronic response, as evidenced by increased expression of endothelial cell marker (CD31); however, vascularity was consistently decreased in irradiated lung and was negatively correlated with lung collagen. Other organ-level responses included increased expression of alpha smooth muscle actin (ASMA), increased numbers of proliferating cells (Ki67 positive), and cells expressing the dendritic cell-lysosomal associated membrane protein (DC-LAMP) antigen. The chronic response to RILI in this model is effected at both the whole organ and local lung level. Whilst the long-term consequences of exposure to radiation involved the continued deposition of collagen in the radiation field, organ-level responses also included increased vascularization and increased expression of ASMA, Ki67 and DC-LAMP. Interrupting the interplay between these aspects may influence susceptibility to pulmonary fibrosis after radiotherapy. We advocate for the importance of large animal model systems in pursuing these opportunities to target local, organ-level and systemic mechanisms in parallel within the same subject over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9553
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to acknowledge the professional assistance of technical staff from Bioresearch & Veterinary Services (BVS), who assumed responsibility for the housing, care and management of animals used in the conduct of this research. The authors also wish to acknowledge the support provided by Grant MRC/CIC3/025.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


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