Radiation fibrosis of the lung is a late toxicity of thoracic irradiation. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) signaling has previously been implicated in radiation lung injury. We hypothesized that TGF-α, an EGF receptor ligand, plays a key role in radiation-induced fibrosis in lung. Mice deficient in transforming growth factor (TGF-α–/–) and control C57Bl/6J (C57-WT) mice were exposed to thoracic irradiation in 5 daily fractions of 6 Gy. Cohorts of mice were followed for survival (n ≥ 5 per group) and tissue collection (n = 3 per strain and time point). Collagen accumulation in irradiated lungs was assessed by Masson's trichrome staining and analysis of hydroxyproline content. Cytokine levels in lung tissue were assessed with ELISA. The effects of TGF-α on pneumocyte and fibroblast proliferation and collagen production were analyzed in vitro. Lysyl oxidase (LOX) expression and activity were measured in vitro and in vivo. Irradiated C57-WT mice had a median survival of 24.4 weeks compared to 48.2 weeks for irradiated TGF-α–/– mice (P = 0.001). At 20 weeks after irradiation, hydroxyproline content was markedly increased in C57-WT mice exposed to radiation compared to TGF-α–/– mice exposed to radiation or unirradiated C57-WT mice (63.0, 30.5 and 37.6 μg/lung, respectively, P = 0.01). C57-WT mice exposed to radiation had dense foci of subpleural fibrosis at 20 weeks after exposure, whereas the lungs of irradiated TGF-α –/– mice were largely devoid of fibrotic foci. Lung tissue concentrations of IL-1β, IL-4, TNF-α, TGF-β and EGF at multiple time points after irradiation were similar in C57-WT and TGF-α–/– mice. TGF-α in lung tissue of C57-WT mice rose rapidly after irradiation and remained elevated through 20 weeks. TGF-α–/– mice had lower basal LOX expression than C57-WT mice. Both LOX expression and LOX activity were increased after irradiation in all mice but to a lesser degree in TGF-α–/– mice. Treatment of NIH-3T3 fibroblasts with TGF-α resulted in increases in proliferation, collagen production and LOX activity. These studies identify TGF-α as a critical mediator of radiation-induced lung injury and a novel therapeutic target in this setting. Further, these data implicate TGF-α as a mediator of collagen maturation through a TGF-β independent activation of lysyl oxidase.
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Vol. 182 • No. 3