Spatially fractionated radiation therapy (SFRT) has been based on the delivery of a single high-dose fraction to a large treatment area that has been divided into several smaller fields, reducing the overall toxicity and adverse effects. Complementary microbeam studies have also shown an effective tissue-sparing effect (TSE) in various tissue types and species after spatially fractionated irradiation at the microscale level; however, the underlying biological mechanism remains elusive. In the current study, using the combination of an ex vivo mouse spermatogenesis model and high-precision X-ray microbeams, we revealed the significant TSE for maintaining spermatogenesis after spatially fractionated microbeam irradiation. We used the following ratios of the irradiated to nonirradiated areas: 50:50, 150:50 and 350:50 μm-slit, where approximately 50, 75 and 87.5% of the sample was irradiated (using center-to-center distances of 100, 200 and 400 μm, respectively). We found that the 50 and 75% micro-slit irradiated testicular tissues showed an almost unadulterated TSE for spermatogenesis, whereas the 87.5% micro-slit irradiated tissues showed an incomplete TSE. This suggests that the TSE efficiency for spermatogenesis is dependent on the size of the nonirradiated spermatogonial stem cell pool in the irradiated testicular tissues. In addition, there would be a spatiotemporal limitation of stem cell migration/competition, resulting in the insufficient TSE for 87.5% micro-slit irradiated tissues. These stem cell characteristics are essential for the accurate prediction of tissue-level responses during or after SFRT, indicating the clinical potential for achieving better outcomes while preventing adverse effects.

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