While ionizing radiation is a major form of cancer therapy, radioresistance remains a therapeutic obstacle. We have previously shown that the mandated housing temperature for laboratory mice (∼22°C) induces mild, but chronic, cold stress resulting in increased circulating norepinephrine, which binds to, and triggers activation of, beta-adrenergic receptors (β-AR) on tumor and immune cells. This adrenergic signaling increases tumor cell intrinsic resistance to chemotherapy and suppression of the anti-tumor immune response. These findings led us to hypothesize that adrenergic stress signaling increases radioresistance in tumor cells in addition to suppressing T-cell-mediated anti-tumor immunity, thus suppressing the overall sensitivity of tumors to radiation. We used three strategies to test the effect of adrenergic signaling on responsiveness to radiation. For one strategy, mice implanted with CT26 murine colon adenocarcinoma were housed at either 22°C or at thermoneutrality (30°C), which reduces physiological adrenergic stress. For a second strategy, we used a β-AR antagonist (“beta blocker”) to block adrenergic signaling in mice housed at 22°C. In either case, tumors were then irradiated with a single 6 Gy dose and the response was compared to mice whose adrenergic stress signaling was not reduced. For the third strategy, we used an in vitro approach in which several different tumor cell lines were treated with a β-AR agonist and irradiated, and cell survival was then assessed by clonogenic assay. Overall, we found that adrenergic stress significantly impaired the anti-tumor efficacy of radiation by inducing tumor cell resistance to radiation-induced cell killing and by suppression of anti-tumor immunity. Treatment using beta blockers is a promising strategy for increasing the anti-tumor efficacy of radiotherapy.
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Vol. 191 • No. 6