High-LET radiation has unique physical and biological properties compared to sparsely ionizing radiation. Recent studies demonstrate that sparsely ionizing radiation rapidly alters the pattern of extracellular matrix expression in several tissues, but little is known about the effect of heavy-ion radiation. This study investigates densely ionizing radiation-induced changes in extracellular matrix localization in the mammary glands of adult female BALB/c mice after whole-body irradiation with 0.8 Gy 600 MeV iron particles. The basement membrane and interstitial extracellular matrix proteins of the mammary gland stroma were mapped with respect to time postirradiation using immunofluorescence. Collagen III was induced in the adipose stroma within 1 day, continued to increase through day 9 and was resolved by day 14. Immunoreactive tenascin was induced in the epithelium by day 1, was evident at the epithelial-stromal interface by day 5-9 and persisted as a condensed layer beneath the basement membrane through day 14. These findings parallel similar changes induced by γ irradiation but demonstrate different onset and chronicity. In contrast, the integrity of epithelial basement membrane, which was unaffected by sparsely ionizing radiation, was disrupted by iron-particle irradiation. Laminin immunoreactivity was mildly irregular at 1 h postirradiation and showed discontinuities and thickening from days 1 to 9. Continuity was restored by day 14. Thus high-LET radiation, like sparsely ionizing radiation, induces rapid remodeling of the stromal extracellular matrix but also appears to alter the integrity of the epithelial basement membrane, which is an important regulator of epithelial cell proliferation and differentiation.

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