Exposure to radiation from a variety of sources is associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Since radiation also induces inflammation, a possible mechanism is a change in the adhesiveness of vascular endothelial cells, triggering pro-atherogenic accumulation of leukocytes. To investigate this mechanism at the cellular level, the effect of X rays on adhesiveness of cultured human aortic endothelial cells (HAECs) was determined. HAECs were grown as monolayers and exposed to 0 to 30 Gy X rays, followed by measurement of adhesiveness under physiological shear stress using a flow chamber adhesion assay. Twenty-four hours after irradiation, HAEC adhesiveness was increased, with a peak effect at 15 Gy. Radiation had no significant effect on surface expression of the endothelial adhesion molecules ICAM-1 and VCAM-1. Antibody blockade of the leukocyte integrin receptors for ICAM-1 and VCAM-1, however, abolished the radiation-induced adhesiveness. Since these leukocyte integrins can be activated by chemokines presented on the endothelial cell surface, the effect of pertussis toxin (PTX), an inhibitor of chemokine-mediated integrin activation, was tested. PTX specifically inhibited radiation-induced adhesiveness, with no significant effect on nonirradiated cells. Therefore, radiation induces increased adhesiveness of aortic endothelial cells through chemokine-dependent signaling from endothelial cells to leukocytes, even in the absence of increased expression of the adhesion molecules involved.

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