The protection of intestinal epithelial cells from the lethal effects induced by high-dose radiation is an important issue in radiotherapy and in the treatment of acute radiation syndrome. However, the effects of middle- and low-dose radiation on intestinal epithelial cells remain unclear. Because the accumulation of DNA damage in intestinal stem cells may be crucial for the development of cancer-initiating cells, it is important to understand the kinetics of DNA repair and tissue response (which are involved in the elimination of damaged cells and tissue injury repair) to middle- to low-dose irradiation. In this study, mice were X-ray irradiated with 0.1, 1 or 4 Gy, after which the small intestine (duodenum and ileum) and colon were harvested from the animals. DNA damage repair and the elimination of damaged cells were quantified by measuring the number of foci of 53BP1, a surrogate marker for DNA double-strand breaks. Tissue-proliferative response was evaluated by determining the number of Ki-67+ and mitotic cells. Intra-crypt response differed considerably between the small intestine and the colon. In the small intestine, 53BP1 foci were detected immediately after irradiation, but rapidly disappeared thereafter, especially noticeable in Lgr5+ stem cells. Cellular growth was temporally arrested; however, cell numbers and mitotic cell numbers in the crypt did not change. The kinetics of DNA damage repair in Lgr5+ stem cells were similar to those in the small intestines, while the colon was more susceptible to radiation-induced damage. Preferential cell loss in the lower crypt was clearly observed in the colon; and after low-dose X-ray irradiation, only the colon exhibited considerably reduced cell numbers and dramatic induction of mitosis. These results suggest that differences in radiation dose response between the small and the large intestine may depend on the growth activity of stem cells after DNA repair.

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