Female CBA mice, aged 16 weeks, were irradiated to the total pelvic region with either single doses (5-20 Gy) or two equal fractions (10- to 30-Gy total dose, 24-h interval) of 240 kV X rays. Total protein and collagen synthesis rates, collagen breakdown, and net collagen content of the colon were measured at various times postirradiation using a radioisotope incorporation method and HPLC analysis. Immunohistochemical staining and computerized image analysis were used to assess the relative amounts of collagen types I and III at various times postirradiation, in various regions of the colon. Total protein and collagen synthesis rates were elevated above control levels at 4 and 8 weeks postirradiation, as was collagen degradation. Values had returned to control levels by 16 weeks postirradiation, and there were no further changes up to 71 weeks postirradiation. The net amount of collagen in the colon did not change relative to controls at any time during the investigation. There was, however, increased immunohistochemical staining for collagen type I 52 weeks postirradiation in all regions of the colon and decreased staining of type III in the circular muscle layer and villi. Altered ratios of these two collagen isotypes are consistent with changes in mechanical properties of the tissue.

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