We implemented a two-stage study to predict late occurring hematologic acute radiation syndrome (HARS) in a baboon model based on gene expression changes measured in peripheral blood within the first two days after irradiation. Eighteen baboons were irradiated to simulate different patterns of partial-body and total-body exposure, which corresponded to an equivalent dose of 2.5 or 5 Gy. According to changes in blood cell counts the surviving baboons (n = 17) exhibited mild (H1–2, n = 4) or more severe (H2–3, n = 13) HARS. Blood samples taken before irradiation served as unexposed control (H0, n = 17). For stage I of this study, a whole genome screen (mRNA microarrays) was performed using a portion of the samples (H0, n = 5; H1–2, n = 4; H2–3, n = 5). For stage II, using the remaining samples and the more sensitive methodology, qRT-PCR, validation was performed on candidate genes that were differentially up- or down-regulated during the first two days after irradiation. Differential gene expression was defined as significant (P < 0.05) and greater than or equal to a twofold difference above a H0 classification. From approximately 20,000 genes, on average 46% appeared to be expressed. On day 1 postirradiation for H2–3, approximately 2–3 times more genes appeared up-regulated (1,418 vs. 550) or down-regulated (1,603 vs. 735) compared to H1–2. This pattern became more pronounced at day 2 while the number of differentially expressed genes decreased. The specific genes showed an enrichment of biological processes coding for immune system processes, natural killer cell activation and immune response (P = 1 × E-06 up to 9 × E-14). Based on the P values, magnitude and sustained differential gene expression over time, we selected 89 candidate genes for validation using qRT-PCR. Ultimately, 22 genes were confirmed for identification of H1–3 classifications and seven genes for identification of H2–3 classifications using qRT-PCR. For H1–3 classifications, most genes were constantly three to fivefold down-regulated relative to H0 over both days, but some genes appeared 10.3-fold (VSIG4) or even 30.7-fold up-regulated (CD177) over H0. For H2–3, some genes appeared four to sevenfold up-regulated relative to H0 (RNASE3, DAGLA, ARG2), but other genes showed a strong 14- to 33-fold down-regulation relative to H0 (WNT3, POU2AF1, CCR7). All of these genes allowed an almost completely identifiable separation among each of the HARS categories. In summary, clinically relevant HARS can be independently predicted with all 29 irradiated genes examined in the peripheral blood of baboons within the first two days postirradiation. While further studies are needed to confirm these findings, this model shows potential relevance in the prediction of clinical outcomes in exposed humans and as an aid in the prioritizing of medical treatment.

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