This study was undertaken to determine if acidic or basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF1 or FGF2) or vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) alters the radiation response of small bowel after total-body irradiation (TBI). Female C3H mice were treated with various doses of angiogenic growth factor administered intravenously 24 h before or 1 h after TBI. Radiation doses ranged from 7 to 18 Gy. End points measured were the number of crypts in three portions of the small bowel, the frequency of apoptosis of crypt cells at various times after TBI, and the <tex-math>${\rm LD}_{50/30}$</tex-math> (bone marrow syndrome) and <tex-math>${\rm LD}_{50/6}$</tex-math> (GI syndrome). Fibroblast growth factors alone, without TBI, decreased the number of crypts per circumference significantly. Among the factors tested, FGF2 caused the greatest decline in baseline crypt number. Despite this decrease in the baseline crypt number, after irradiation the number of surviving crypts was greater in animals treated with growth factors. The greatest radioprotection occurred at intermediate doses of growth factor (6 to 18 μg/mouse). Mice treated with FGF1 and FGF2 had crypt survival curves with a slope that was more shallow than that for saline-treated animals, indicating radiation resistance of crypt stem cells in FGF-treated mice. The <tex-math>${\rm LD}_{50/6}$</tex-math> was increased by approximately 10% for all treatments with angiogenic growth factors, whether given before or after TBI. Apoptosis of crypt cells was maximum at 4 to 8 h after TBI. The cumulative apoptosis was decreased significantly in animals treated with angiogenic growth factors, and the greatest protection against apoptosis was seen in animals treated with FGF2 prior to TBI. All three angiogenic growth factors tested were radioprotective in small bowel whether given 24 h before or 1 h after irradiation. The mechanism of protection is unlikely to involve proliferation of crypt stem cells, but probably does involve prevention of radiation-induced apoptosis or enhanced repair of DNA damage of crypt cells.

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