Radiation models, such as whole thorax lung irradiation (WTLI) or partial-body irradiation (PBI) with bone-marrow sparing, have shown that affected lung tissue displays a continual progression of injury, often for months after the initial insult. Undoubtably, a variety of resident and infiltrating cell types either contribute to or fail to resolve this type of progressive injury, which in lung tissue, often develops into lethal and irreversible radiation-induced pulmonary fibrosis (RIPF), indicating a failure of the lung to return to a homeostatic state. Resident pulmonary epithelium, which are present at the time of irradiation and persist long after the initial insult, play a key role in the maintenance of homeostatic conditions in the lung and have often been described as contributing to the progression of radiation-induced lung injury (RILI). In this study, we took an unbiased approach through RNA sequencing to determine the in vivo response of the lung epithelium in the progression of RIPF. In our methodology, we isolated CD326+ epithelium from the lungs of 12.5 Gy WTLI C57BL/6J female mice (aged 8–10 weeks and sacrificed at regular intervals) and compared irradiated and non-irradiated CD326+ cells and whole lung tissue. We subsequently verified our findings by qPCR and immunohistochemistry. Transcripts associated with epithelial regulation of immune responses and fibroblast activation were significantly reduced in irradiated animals at 4 weeks postirradiation. Additionally, alveolar type-2 epithelial cells (AEC2) appeared to be significantly reduced in number at 4 weeks and thereafter based on the diminished expression of pro-surfactant protein C (pro-SPC). This change is associated with a reduction of Cd200 and cyclooxygenase 2 (COX2), which are expressed within the CD326 populations of cells and function to suppress macrophage and fibroblast activation under steady-state conditions, respectively. These data indicate that either preventing epithelial cell loss that occurs after irradiation or replacing important mediators of immune and fibroblast activity produced by the epithelium are potentially important strategies for preventing or treating this unique injury.

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