The pathophysiology of the cellular basis of radiation-induced demyelination and white-matter necrosis of the central nervous system (CNS) is poorly understood. Preliminary data suggest that tissue damage is partly mediated through changes in the proteolytic enzymes. In this study, we irradiated rat cervical spinal cords with single doses of 24 Gy of 18 MV photons or 20 MeV electrons and measured the levels of plasminogen activators at days 2, 7, 30, 60, 90, 120, 130 and 145 after irradiation, using appropriate controls at each time. Fibrin zymography revealed fibrinolytic bands representing molecular weights of 68,000 and 48,000 in controls and irradiated samples; these bands increased significantly at days 120, 130 and 145 after irradiation. Inhibition of these enzymatic bands with specific antibodies against tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA) and amiloride, an inhibitor for urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA), confirmed that these bands were tPA and uPA. Enzymatic levels quantified by densitometry showed a twofold elevation in the levels of tPA and more than a tenfold increase in uPA after 120 days' irradiation. Activity of uPA was increased threefold by day 2 and increased steadily with time compared to nonirradiated control samples. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) also showed a threefold increase in the tPA content in the extracts of irradiated rat cervical spinal cords at days 120, 130 and 145. This study adds additional information to the proposed role of plasminogen activators in the pathogenic pathways of radiation damage in the CNS.

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