Serum microRNAs are early indicators of survival after radiation-induced hematopoietic injury

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Science Translational Medicine  13 May 2015:
Vol. 7, Issue 287, pp. 287ra69
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaa6593

Spotting radiation injury with serum microRNAs

Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima were catastrophic nuclear power plant accidents in the United States, Ukraine, and Japan, respectively. The radiation from these accidents took terrible tolls on human lives, not only at the time of the accident, but also long-term, as individuals suffer from unpredictable cancer, gut damage, and infections. Predicting such toxicity is imperfect, and current methods do not account for latent damage to organs and systems. In a crucial step toward better indicators of radiation injury, Acharya and colleagues investigated microRNA profiles and hematopoietic damage in mice exposed to various doses of total body irradiation (TBI). Mice received between 0 and 8 Gy TBI. Serum miRNA profiles distinguished animals receiving different doses of radiation, whereas bone marrow mononuclear cell counts did not. Such miRNA signatures may be useful in distinguishing humans with mild radiation-related injury from those with more severe (often nonrecoverable) bone marrow damage—even if all were exposed to sublethal doses of TBI. Importantly, animals receiving radiation mitigation in the form of amifostine, a radioprotectant, or stem cell transplant, demonstrated serum miRNA profiles that changed to match 0-Gy controls, indicating that miRNAs reflect impact of radiation (hematopoietic function) rather than dose. Similar results were obtained in “humanized” mice, suggesting the translatability of this miRNA-based approach to predicting radiation toxicity in people. Future studies with human samples will allow for validation of such indicators, as well as further investigations into novel intervention measures, to improve care of patients and enhance survival after radiation exposure.

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