Radiation-induced complications of the respiratory system are a common side effect of thoracic radiotherapy with no viable treatment option. Here, we investigated the potential therapeutic effect of the orphan drug pirfenidone for treating radiation-induced pulmonary fibrosis. C57BL/6 mice received a single fraction of 16 Gy to the thorax and were subsequently treated with 300 mg/kg/day pirfenidone for four weeks. Survival and body weight of the mice were quantified. Micro-CT in vivo lung imaging was performed to dynamically observe the developmental process of pulmonary fibrosis. The lungs were excised at the end of the experiment and evaluated for histological changes. Compared to the irradiated mice that received no pirfenidone, mice treated with pirfenidone after irradiation had an extended median survival time (>140 days vs. 73 days, P < 0.01). The accumulation of collagen and fibrosis in lung tissues after irradiation was decreased with pirfenidone treatment. Pirfenidone also reduced the expression of TGF-β1 and phosphorylation of Smad3 in lung tissues. The dose level of Pirfenidone used in this study attenuated pulmonary fibrosis and prolonged the life span of irradiated mice. It may offer a promising approach to treat or minimize radiation-induced pulmonary fibrosis.
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