Fibrosis is characterized by proliferation of fibroblasts and deposition of extracellular matrix (ECM). As alterations in the composition of ECM may account for its chronic extension, we studied the expression of the tenascin-C (TN-C) and tenascin-X (TN-X) ECM glycoproteins in our pig model of the effects of accidental exposures to radiation, in which cutaneous and muscle fibrosis developed after the induction of necrosis after a high single dose (160 Gy at the skin surface) of γ rays. We found that, in the healed fibrotic dermis and underlying muscle fibrosis, the amount of TN-C mRNA was increased up to 18- and 39-fold, respectively, compared to normal dermis, whereas the level of TN-X mRNA remained almost unchanged. In analyses by Western blotting, the two main TN-C isoforms of 235-240 and 190-200 kDa increased up to 45- and 105-fold in fibrotic tissues, respectively. The large isoform was expressed more strongly than the smaller, although in healed fibrotic scar tissues their ratio was lower in protein than in RNA. Compared to unirradiated skin, an immunohistological study revealed stronger TN-C staining at the dermo-epidermal junction and in areas of remodeling in healed skin. An intense extracellular staining was observed around myofibroblasts in muscle fibrosis. Therefore, the gene encoding TN-C is highly up-regulated in fibrotic tissues, and mechanisms regulating the levels of TN-C variants occur at both the RNA and protein levels. Each isoform might play a distinct role in the chronic activation of fibrosis by differentially regulating mechanisms like cell adhesion, migration or proliferation.

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