The United States continues to be a prime target for attack by terrorist organizations in which nuclear detonation and dispersal of radiological material are legitimate threats. Such attacks could have devastating consequences to large populations, in the form of radiation injury to various human organ systems. One of these at risk organs is the cutaneous system, which forms both a physical and immunological barrier to the surrounding environment and is particularly sensitive to ionizing radiation. Therefore, increased efforts to develop medical countermeasures for treatment of the deleterious effects of cutaneous radiation exposure are essential. Interleukin-12 (IL-12) was shown to elicit protective effects against radiation injury on radiosensitive systems such as the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tract. In this article, we examined if IL-12 could protect the cutaneous system from a combined radiation injury in the form of sublethal total body irradiation and beta-radiation burn (β-burn) directly to the skin. Combined radiation injury resulted in a breakdown in skin integrity as measured by transepidermal water loss, size of β-burn lesion and an exacerbated loss of surveillant cutaneous dendritic cells. Interestingly, intradermal administration of IL-12 48 h postirradiation reduced transepidermal water loss and burn size, as well as retention of cutaneous dendritic cells. Our data identify IL-12 as a potential mitigator of radiation-induced skin injury and argue for the further development of this cytokine as a radiation countermeasure.
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Vol. 183 • No. 1