FLASH Irradiation Spares Lung Progenitor Cells and Limits the Incidence of Radio-induced Senescence
One of the main limitations to anticancer radiotherapy lies in irreversible damage to healthy tissues located within the radiation field. “FLASH” irradiation at very high dose-rate is a new treatment modality that has been reported to specifically spare normal tissue from late radiation-induced toxicity in animal models and therefore could be a promising strategy to reduce treatment toxicity.
Lung responses to FLASH irradiation were investigated by qPCR, single-cell RNA sequencing (sc-RNA-Seq), and histologic methods during the acute wound healing phase as well as at late stages using C57BL/6J wild-type and Terc−/− mice exposed to bilateral thorax irradiation as well as human lung cells grown in vitro.
In vitro studies gave evidence of a reduced level of DNA damage and induced lethality at the advantage of FLASH. In mouse lung, sc-RNA-seq and the monitoring of proliferating cells revealed that FLASH minimized the induction of proinflammatory genes and reduced the proliferation of progenitor cells after injury. At late stages, FLASH-irradiated lungs presented less persistent DNA damage and senescent cells than after CONV exposure, suggesting a higher potential for lung regeneration with FLASH. Consistent with this hypothesis, the beneficial effect of FLASH was lost in Terc−/− mice harboring critically short telomeres and lack of telomerase activity.
The results suggest that, compared with conventional radiotherapy, FLASH minimizes DNA damage in normal cells, spares lung progenitor cells from excessive damage, and reduces the risk of replicative senescence.