In a radiation exposure event, a likely scenario may include either total-body irradiation (TBI) or different partial-body irradiation (PBI) patterns. Knowledge of the exposure pattern is expected to improve prediction of clinical outcome. We examined miRNA species in 17 irradiated baboons receiving an upper-body, left hemibody or total-body irradiation of 2.5 or 5 Gy. Blood samples were taken before irradiation and at 1, 2, 7, 28 and 75–106 days after irradiation. Using a qRT-PCR platform for simultaneous detection of 667 miRNAs, we identified 55 miRNAs over all time points. Candidate miRNAs, such as miR-17, miR-128 or miR-15b, significantly discriminated TBI from different PBI exposure patterns, and 5-to-10-fold changes in gene expression were observed among the groups. A total of 22 miRNAs (including miR-17) revealed significant linear associations of gene expression changes with the percentage of the exposed body area (P < 0.0001). All these changes were primarily observed at day 7 postirradiation and almost no miRNAs were detected either before or after 7 days. A significant association in the reduction of lymphocyte counts in TBI compared to PBI animals corresponded with the number of miRNA candidates. This finding suggests that our target miRNAs predominantly originated from irradiated lymphocytes. In summary, gene expression changes in the peripheral blood provided indications of the exposure pattern and a suggestion of the percentage of the exposed body area.

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