In this study we utilized a systems biology approach to identify dose- (0.1, 2.0 and 10 Gy) and time- (3 and 8 h) dependent responses to acute ionizing radiation exposure in a complex tissue, reconstituted human skin. The low dose used here (0.1 Gy) falls within the range of certain medical diagnostic procedures. Of the two higher doses used, 2.0 Gy is typically administered for radiotherapy, while 10 Gy is lethal. Because exposure to any of these doses is possible after an intentional or accidental radiation events, biomarkers are needed to rapidly and accurately triage potentially exposed individuals. Here, tissue samples were acutely exposed to X-ray-generated low-linear-energy transfer (LET) ionizing radiation, and direct RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) was used to quantify altered transcripts. The time points used for this study aid in assessing early responses to exposure, when key signaling pathways and biomarkers can be identified, which precede and regulate later phenotypic alterations that occur at high doses, including cell death. We determined that a total of 1,701 genes expressed were significantly affected by high-dose radiation, with the majority of genes affected at 10 Gy. Expression levels of a group of 29 genes, including GDF15, BBC3, PPM1D, FDXR, GADD45A, MDM2, CDKN1A, TP53INP1, CYCSP27, SESN1, SESN2, PCNA and AEN, were similarly altered at both 2 and 10 Gy, but not 0.1 Gy, at both time points. A much larger group of upregulated genes, including those involved in inflammatory responses, was significantly altered only after 10 Gy irradiation. At high doses, downregulated genes were associated with cell cycle regulation and exhibited an apparent linear response between 2 and 10 Gy. While only a few genes were significantly affected by 0.1 Gy irradiation, using stringent statistical filters, groups of related genes regulating cell cycle progression and inflammatory responses consistently exhibited opposite trends in their regulation compared to high-dose irradiated groups. Differential regulation of PLK1 signaling at low- and high-dose irradiation was confirmed using qRT-PCR. These results indicate that some alterations in gene expression are qualitatively different at low and high doses of ionizing radiation in this model system. They also highlight potential biomarkers for radiation exposure that may precede the development of overt physiological symptoms in exposed individuals.
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Vol. 186 • No. 5