There is a natural tendency to expect that irradiation of an infant organ prior to development-related expansion will result in a higher risk of developing cancer than that of fully-developed adult tissue, and this has generally been observed. However, if tissues also vary in their initial responses to radiation depending on age, the interplay between tissue- and age-dependent risk would potentially be quite complex. We have previously shown opposing age-dependent induction of apoptosis for the intestinal epithelium and hematopoietic cells in mice, but such data are not yet available for the liver. Here, we have examined markers of DNA damage, initiation of DNA damage responses, cell cycle arrest, apoptosis and proliferation, as well as gene expression, in the B6C3F1 mouse liver over the hours and days after irradiation of mice at 1 or 7 weeks of age. We found that induction and resolution of radiation-induced DNA damage is not accompanied by significant changes in these cellular end points in the adult liver, while in infant hepatocytes modest induction of p53 accumulation and p21-mediated cell cycle arrest in a small fraction of damaged cells was overshadowed by a further stimulation of proliferation over the relatively high levels already found in the neonatal liver. We observed distinct expression of genes that regulate cell division between the ages, which may contribute to the differential responses. These data suggest that the growth factor signaling environment of the infant liver may mediate radiation-induced proliferation and increased liver cancer risk after irradiation during early life.
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Vol. 188 • No. 2