Purpose: Low-dose whole lung radiotherapy (LDLR) has been proposed as a treatment for patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection and clinical trials are underway. There is an urgent need for preclinical evidence to justify this approach and inform dose, scheduling and mechanisms of action. Materials and methods: Female C57BL/6 mice were treated with intranasal bleomycin sulphate (7.5 or 11.25 units/kg, day 0), then exposed to whole lung radiation therapy (0.5, 1.0, 1.5 Gy or sham, day 3). Bodyweight was measured daily and lung tissue harvested for histology and flow cytometry on day 10. Computed tomography (CT) lung imaging was performed pre-radiation (day 3) and pre-endpoint (day 10). Results: Bleomycin caused pneumonitis of variable severity which correlated with weight loss. LDLR at 1.0 Gy was associated with a significant increase in the proportion of mice recovering to 98% of initial bodyweight and a proportion of these mice exhibited less severe histopathological lung changes. Mice experiencing moderate initial weight loss were more likely to respond to LDLR than those experiencing severe initial weight loss. Additionally, LDLR (1.0 Gy) significantly reduced bleomycin-induced increases in interstitial macrophages, CD103+ dendritic cells and neutrophil-DC hybrids. Overall, bleomycin-treated mice exhibited significantly higher percentages of non-aerated lung in left than right lungs and LDLR (1.0 Gy) limited further reductions in aerated lung volume in right but not left lungs. LDLR at 0.5 and 1.5 Gy did not improve bodyweight, flow cytometric or radiological readouts of bleomycin-induced pneumonitis. Conclusions: Our data support the concept that LDLR can ameliorate acute inflammatory lung injury, identify 1.0 Gy as the most effective dose and provide evidence that it is more effective in the context of moderate than severe pneumonitis. Mechanistically, LDLR at 1.0 Gy significantly suppressed bleomycin-induced accumulation of pulmonary interstitial macrophages, CD103+ dendritic cells and neutrophil-DC hybrids.


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Jackson, M., Stevenson, K., Chahal, S., Curley, E., Finney, G., Gutierrez-Quintana, R., Onwubiko, E., Rupp, A., Strathdee, K., Williams, K., MacLeod, M., McSharry, C. & Chalmers, A. 2021, 'Low-dose lung radiotherapy for COVID-19 lung disease: a preclinical efficacy study in a bleomycin model of pneumonitis', International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijrobp.2021.08.029

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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