Intensive research is underway to find new agents that can successfully mitigate the acute effects of radiation exposure. This is primarily in response to potential counterthreats of radiological terrorism and nuclear accidents but there is some hope that they might also be of value for cancer patients treated with radiation therapy. Research into mitigation countermeasures typically employs classic animal models of acute radiation syndromes (ARS) that develop after whole-body irradiation (WBI). While agents are available that successfully mitigate ARS when given after radiation exposure, their success raises questions as to whether they simply delay lethality or unmask potentially lethal radiation pathologies that may appear later in time. Life shortening is a well-known consequence of WBI in humans and experimental animals, but it is not often examined in a mitigation setting and its causes, other than cancer, are not well-defined. This is in large part because delayed effects of acute radiation exposure (DEARE) do not follow the strict time–dose phenomena associated with ARS and present as a diverse range of symptoms and pathologies with low mortality rates that can be evaluated only with the use of large cohorts of subjects, as in this study. Here, we describe chronically increased mortality rates up to 660 days in large numbers of mice given LD70/30 doses of WBI. Systemic myeloid cell activation after WBI persists in some mice and is associated with late immunophenotypic changes and hematopoietic imbalance. Histopathological changes are largely of a chronic inflammatory nature and variable incidence, as are the clinical symptoms, including late diarrhea that correlates temporally with changes in the content of the microbiome. We also describe the acute and long-term consequences of mitigating hematopoietic ARS (H-ARS) lethality after LD70/30 doses of WBI in multiple cohorts of mice treated uniformly with radiation mitigators that have a common 4-nitro-phenylsulfonamide (NPS) pharmacophore. Effective NPS mitigators dramatically decrease ARS mortality. There is slightly increased subacute mortality, but the rate of late mortalities is slowed, allowing some mice to live a normal life span, which is not the case for WBI controls. The study has broad relevance to radiation late effects and their potential mitigation and epitomizes the complex interaction between radiation-damaged tissues and immune homeostasis.
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Vol. 191 • No. 4