Dexamethasone was evaluated as a treatment for radiation-induced lung, kidney, liver, and spinal cord injuries in rats. One experimental group was partial-body-irradiated (22.5 Gy) with the head, femur, and exteriorized intestine shielded to prevent acute mortality. Other animals received local irradiation to the kidney (20 Gy), liver (25 Gy), or a 1-cm segment of cervical spinal cord (18 to 40 Gy). Following irradiation half of the animals in each radiation group were given drinking water containing 188 μg/liter of dexamethasone. Tests were done to assess kidney function (hematocrit, plasma urea nitrogen, ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid clearance), liver function (rose bengal clearance, plasma glutamic oxaloacetic acid transaminase), or spinal cord injury (paralysis). The effectiveness of dexamethasone in preventing radiation injury was tissue specific. Dexamethasone eliminated lethal pleural fluid accumulation after partial-body irradiation and delayed development of kidney dysfunction after local kidney irradiation. As a result, dexamethasone increased the median survival time from 63 to 150 days after partial-body irradiation and from 126 to 175 days after local kidney irradiation. After whole-liver irradiation, development of hepatic functional injury was retarded by dexamethasone treatment but without significantly changing survival time. Dexamethasone had no effect on spinal cord tolerance but significantly shortened the latent period between radiation and paralysis.

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