Fibrosis, characterized by the accumulation of collagen, is a late result of thoracic irradiation. The purpose of this study was to determine if extracellular matrix protein and transforming growth factor β mRNA expression are altered late in the course of pulmonary fibrosis after irradiation, and then to determine if these changes differ between two strains of mice which vary in their sensitivity to radiation. Radiation-sensitive (C57BL/6) and radiation-resistant (C3H/HeJ) mice were irradiated with a single dose of 5 or 12.5 Gy to the thorax. Total lung RNA was prepared and immobilized by Northern and slot blotting and hybridized with radiolabeled cDNA probes for collagens I, III and IV, fibronectin, and transforming growth factor β1 and β3. Autoradiographic data were quantified by video densitometry and results normalized to a control probe encoding for glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase. Alterations in mRNA abundance were observed in the sensitive mice at all times, while levels in the resistant mice were unaffected until 26 weeks after irradiation. The relationship between extracellular matrix protein per se and increased mRNA abundance suggests that late matrix protein accumulation may be a function of gene expression. Differences in levels of transforming growth factor β mRNA may lead to strain-dependent variation in fibrotic response and may also contribute to the radiation-induced component of pulmonary fibrosis.

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