We investigated whether genistein could protect the lung from radiation-induced injury. We hypothesized that genistein would reduce the levels of inflammatory cytokines and ROS after irradiation and therefore lead to reduced DNA damage and functional deficits. Whole lungs of Sprague-Dawley rats were irradiated with 18 Gy at ∼0.5 Gy/min. At 28 weeks a micronucleus assay was used to examine DNA damage and, using immunohistochemical analysis, expression of IL-1α, IL-1β, IL-6, TNF-α and TGF-β, macrophage activation, oxidative stress (8-OHdG) and collagen levels were measured. A TBARS assay was used to measure the level of malondialdehyde. Functional damage was assessed by measuring the breathing rate of the rats over the course of the experiment. The increase in breathing rate after irradiation was damped in rats receiving genistein during the phase of pneumonitis (6–10 weeks), and there was a 50–80-day delay in lethality in this group. Genistein treatment also decreased the levels of the inflammatory cytokines TNF-α, IL-1β and TGF-β and led to a reduction in collagen content, a reduction in 8-OHdG levels, and complete protection against DNA damage measured in surviving rats at 28 weeks after irradiation. These results demonstrates that genistein treatment can provide partial protection against the early (pneumonitis) effects of lung irradiation and reduce the extent of fibrosis, although not sufficiently to prevent lethality at the radiation dose used in this study.

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