Radiation-induced gene expression (GE) changes can be used for early and high-throughput biodosimetry within the first three days postirradiation. However, is the method applicable in situations such as the Alexander Litvinenko case or the Goiania accident, where diagnosis occurred in a prefinal health stage? We aimed to characterize gene expression changes in a prefinal health stage of lethally irradiated male and female rhesus macaques. Peripheral blood was drawn pre-exposure and at the prefinal stage of male and female animals, which did not survive whole-body exposure with 700 cGy (LD66/60). RNA samples originated from a blinded randomized Good Laboratory Practice study comprising altogether 142 irradiated rhesus macaques of whom 60 animals and blood samples (15 samples for both time points and sexes) were used for this analysis. We evaluated GE on 34 genes widely used in biodosimetry and prediction of the hematological acute radiation syndrome severity (H-ARS) employing quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR). These genes were run in duplicate and triplicate and altogether 96 measurements per time point and sex could be performed. In addition, 18S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) was measured to depict the ribosome/transcriptome status as well as for normalization purposes and 16S rRNA was evaluated as a surrogate for bacteremia. Mean differential gene expression (DGE) was calculated for each gene and sex including all replicate measurements and using pre-exposure samples as the reference. From 34 genes, altogether 27 genes appeared expressed. Pre-exposure samples revealed no signs of bacteremia and 18S rRNA GE was in the normal range in all 30 samples. Regarding prefinal samples, 46.7% and 40% of animals appeared infected in females and males, respectively, and for almost all males this was associated with out of normal range 18S rRNA values. The total number of detectable GE measurements was sixfold (females) and 15-fold (males) reduced in prefinal relative to pre-exposure samples and about tenfold lower in 80% of prefinal compared to pre-exposure samples (P < 0.0001). An overall 11-fold (median) downregulation in prefinal compared to pre-exposure samples was identified for most of the 27 genes and even FDXR appeared 4–14-fold downregulated in contrast to a pronounced up-regulation according to cited work. This pattern of overall downregulation of almost all genes and the rapid reduction of detectable genes at a prefinal stage was found in uninfected animals with normal range 18S rRNA as well. In conclusion, in a prefinal stage after lethal radiation exposure, the ribosome/transcriptome status remains present (based on normal range 18S rRNA values) in 60–67% of animals, but the whole transcriptome activity in general appears silenced and cannot be used for biodosimetry purposes, but probably as an indicator for an emerging prefinal health stage.

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