In the event of a mass casualty radiation scenario, rapid assessment of patients' health and triage is required for optimal resource utilization. Identifying the level and extent of exposure as well as prioritization of care is extremely challenging under such disaster conditions. Blood-based biomarkers, such as RNA integrity numbers (RIN), could help healthcare personnel quickly and efficiently determine the extent and effect of multiple injuries on patients' health. Evaluation of the effect of different radiation doses, alone or in combination with burn injury, on total RNA integrity over multiple time points was performed. Total RNA integrity was tallied in blood samples for potential application as a marker of radiation exposure and survival. Groups of aged mice (3–6 mice/group, 13–18 months old) received 0.5, 1, 5, 10 or 20 Gy ionizing radiation. Two additional mouse groups received low-dose irradiation (0.5 or 1 Gy) with a 15% total body surface area (TBSA) burn injury. Animals were euthanized at 2 or 12 h and at day 1, 2, 3, 7 or 14 postirradiation, or when injury-mediated mortality occurred. Total RNA was isolated from blood. The quality of RNA was evaluated and RNA RIN were obtained. Analysis of RIN indicated that blood showed the clearest radiation effect. There was a time- and radiation-dose-dependent reduction in RIN that was first detectable at 12 h postirradiation for all doses in animals receiving irradiation alone. This effect was reversible in lower-dose groups (i.e., 0.5, 1 and 5 Gy) that survived to the end of the study (14 days). In contrast, the effect persisted for 10 and 20 Gy groups, which showed suppression of RIN values <4.5 with high mortalities. Radiation doses of 20 Gy were lethal and required euthanasia by day 6. A low RIN (<2.5) at any time point was associated with 100% mortality. Combined radiation-burn injury produced significantly increased mortality such that no dually-injured animals survived beyond day 3, and no radiation dose >1 Gy resulted in survival past day 1. More modest suppression of RIN was observed in the surviving dually challenged mice, and no statistically significant changes were identified in RIN values of burn-only mice at any time point. In this study of an animal model, a proof of concept is presented for a simple and accurate method of assessing radiation dose exposure in blood which potentially predicts lethality. RIN assessment of blood-derived RNA could form the basis for a clinical decision-support tool to guide healthcare providers under the strenuous conditions of a radiation-based mass casualty event.

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