Triptolide (TPL) may mitigate radiation-induced late pulmonary side effects through its inhibition of global pro-inflammatory cytokines. In this study, we evaluated the effect of TPL in C57BL/6 mice, the animals were exposed to radiation with vehicle (15 Gy), radiation with TPL (0.25 mg/kg i.v., twice weekly for 1, 2 and 3 months), radiation and celecoxib (CLX) (30 mg/kg) and sham irradiation. Cultured supernatant of irradiated RAW 264.7 and MLE-15 cells and lung lysate in different groups were enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays at 33 h. Respiratory rate, pulmonary compliance and pulmonary density were measured at 5 months in all groups. The groups exposed to radiation with vehicle and radiation with TPL exhibited significant differences in respiratory rate and pulmonary compliance (480 ± 75/min vs. 378 ± 76/min; 0.6 ± 0.1 ml/cm H2O/p kg vs. 0.9 ± 0.2 ml/cm H2O/p kg). Seventeen cytokines were significantly reduced in the lung lysate of the radiation exposure with TPL group at 5 months compared to that of the radiation with vehicle group, including profibrotic cytokines implicated in pulmonary fibrosis, such as IL-1β, TGF- β1 and IL-13. The radiation exposure with TPL mice exhibited a 41% reduction of pulmonary density and a 25% reduction of hydroxyproline in the lung, compared to that of radiation with vehicle mice. The trichrome-stained area of fibrotic foci and pathological scaling in sections of the mice treated with radiation and TPL mice were significantly less than those of the radiation with vehicle-treated group. In addition, the radiation with TPL-treated mice exhibited a trend of improved survival rate compared to that of the radiation with vehicle-treated mice at 5 months (83% vs. 53%). Three radiation-induced profibrotic cytokines in the radiation with vehicle-treated group were significantly reduced by TPL treatment, and this partly contributed to the trend of improved survival rate and pulmonary density and function and the decreased severity of pulmonary fibrosis at 5 months. Our findings indicate that TPL could be a potential new agent to mitigate radiation-induced pulmonary fibrosis.
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