In this work, we investigated the change in tumor microenvironment caused by semi-ablative high-dose irradiation and its implication on tumor cell survival, reoxygenation of hypoxic cells and repopulation in FSaII tumors grown subcutaneously in the hind legs of C3H mice. Tumors were exposed to 10–30 Gy of X-ray radiation in a single exposure, and the vascularity and blood perfusion were assessed based on the levels of CD31 expression and Hoechst 33342 perfusion, respectively. The tumor hypoxia was assessed by staining for pimonidazole adduct formation and the expression of hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) and carbonic anhydrase 9 (CA9). Tumor cell survival was determined using in vivo-in vitro excision assay method. The proportion of hypoxic cells in the tumor was determined from the surviving cell fraction in tumors exposed to a test dose under aerobic and hypoxic conditions. Radiation expsoure markedly reduced the functional vascularity and blood perfusion, and profoundly increased the expression of HIF-1α and CA9 pointing to an increase in tumor hypoxia. The overall clonogenic cell survival progressively decreased during 2–5 days postirradiation, most likely due to the radiation-induced vascular dysfunction. In turn, the proportion of surviving hypoxic cells decreased over several days postirradiation, presumably due to reoxygenation of hypoxic cells. The oxygen supplied through small fractions of blood vessels that survived the high-dose exposure, together with a reduction of oxygen consumption due to massive cell death, appeared to be the cause of the reoxygenation of hypoxic cells. The surviving tumor cells then subsequently repopulated. The findings from this study using a murine tumor model suggest that the efficacy of stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) and stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) may be significantly improved by allowing an inter-fraction time for reoxygenation while avoiding repopulation.

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