The increased threat of terrorism across the globe has raised fears that certain groups will acquire and use radioactive materials to inflict maximum damage. In the event that an improvised nuclear device (IND) is detonated, a potentially large population of victims will require assessment for radiation exposure. While photons will contribute to a major portion of the dose, neutrons may be responsible for the severity of the biologic effects and cellular responses. We investigated differences in response between these two radiation types by using metabolomics and lipidomics to identify biomarkers in urine and blood of wild-type C57BL/6 male mice. Identification of metabolites was based on a 1 Gy dose of radiation. Compared to X rays, a neutron spectrum similar to that encountered in Hiroshima at 1–1.5 km from the epicenter induced a severe metabolic dysregulation, with perturbations in amino acid metabolism and fatty acid β-oxidation being the predominant ones. Urinary metabolites were able to discriminate between neutron and X rays on day 1 as well as day 7 postirradiation, while serum markers showed such discrimination only on day 1. Free fatty acids from omega-6 and omega-3 pathways were also decreased with 1 Gy of neutrons, implicating cell membrane dysfunction and impaired phospholipid metabolism, which should otherwise lead to release of those molecules in circulation. While a precise relative biological effectiveness value could not be calculated from this study, the results are consistent with other published studies showing higher levels of damage from neutrons, demonstrated here by increased metabolic dysregulation. Metabolomics can therefore aid in identifying global perturbations in blood and urine, and effectively distinguishing between neutron and photon exposures.

You do not currently have access to this content.