Radiation pneumonitis is a common complication of thoracic irradiation for lung cancer patients. The healthy gut microbiota plays an important role in the local mucosal defense process as well as pulmonary immunomodulation of the host. However, the effect of the intestinal microbiota on radiation pneumonitis is not well understood. Here we studied how the intestinal microbiota affected the host response to radiation pneumonitis. C57BL/6 mice were administered antibiotics to induce disequilibrium in the gut microbiota, and subsequently irradiated. We found that the intestinal microbiota served as a protective mediator against radiation pneumonitis, as indicated by decreased body weight and increased mortality in antibiotic-treated mice. In mice with gut microbiota disequilibrium, more serious pathological lung damage was observed at two and four weeks postirradiation. Fecal microbiota transplantation into irradiated mice led to improvement from radiation-induced inflammation two weeks postirradiation. High-throughput sequencing of murine feces displayed conversion of flora diversity, bacterial composition and community structure in the absence of normal intestinal flora. We filtered the potentially important species among the gut microbiota and considered that the tissue-type plasminogen activator might be involved in the inflammatory process. This study reveals that the gut microbiota functions as a protective regulator against radiation pneumonitis. Additionally, fecal microbiota transplantation was shown to alleviate lung injury in the irradiated model. The protective role of the healthy gut microbiota and the utilization of the gut–lung axis show potential for innovative therapeutic strategies in radiation-induced lung injury.

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