Late-delayed radiation-induced brain injury (RIBI) is a major adverse effect of fractionated whole-brain irradiation (fWBI). Characterized by progressive cognitive dysfunction, and associated cerebrovascular and white matter injury, RIBI deleteriously affects quality of life for cancer patients. Despite extensive morphological characterization of the injury, the pathogenesis is unclear, thus limiting the development of effective therapeutics. We previously reported that RIBI is associated with increased gene expression of the extracellular matrix (ECM) protein fibronectin (FN1). We hypothesized that fibronectin contributes to perivascular ECM, which may impair diffusion to the dependent parenchyma, thus contributing to the observed cognitive decline. The goal of this study was to determine the localization of fibronectin in RIBI and further characterize the composition of perivascular ECM, as well as identify the cell of origin for FN1 by in situ hybridization. Briefly, fibronectin localized to the vascular basement membrane of morphologically normal blood vessels from control comparators and animals receiving fWBI, and to the perivascular space of edematous and fibrotic vascular phenotypes of animals receiving fWBI. Additional mild diffuse parenchymal staining in areas of vascular injury suggested blood-brain-barrier disruption and plasma fibronectin extravasation. Perivascular ECM lacked amyloid and contained lesser amounts of collagens I and IV, which localized to the basement membrane. These changes occurred in the absence of alterations in microvascular area fraction or microvessel density. Fibronectin transcripts were rarely expressed in control comparators, and were most strongly induced within cerebrovascular endothelial and vascular smooth muscle cells after fWBI. Our results demonstrate that fibronectin is produced by cerebrovascular endothelial and smooth muscle cells in late-delayed RIBI and contributes to perivascular ECM, which we postulate may contribute to diffusion barrier formation. We propose that pathways that antagonize fibronectin deposition and matrix assembly or enhance degradation may serve as potential therapeutic targets in RIBI.
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