PURPOSE: One of the main limitations to anticancer radiotherapy lies in irreversible damage to healthy tissues located within the radiation field. "FLASH" irradiation at very high dose-rate is a new treatment modality that has been reported to specifically spare normal tissue from late radiation-induced toxicity in animal models and therefore could be a promising strategy to reduce treatment toxicity.
EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: Lung responses to FLASH irradiation were investigated by qPCR, single-cell RNA sequencing (sc-RNA-Seq), and histologic methods during the acute wound healing phase as well as at late stages using C57BL/6J wild-type and Terc-/- mice exposed to bilateral thorax irradiation as well as human lung cells grown in vitro.
RESULTS: In vitro studies gave evidence of a reduced level of DNA damage and induced lethality at the advantage of FLASH. In mouse lung, sc-RNA-seq and the monitoring of proliferating cells revealed that FLASH minimized the induction of proinflammatory genes and reduced the proliferation of progenitor cells after injury. At late stages, FLASH-irradiated lungs presented less persistent DNA damage and senescent cells than after CONV exposure, suggesting a higher potential for lung regeneration with FLASH. Consistent with this hypothesis, the beneficial effect of FLASH was lost in Terc-/- mice harboring critically short telomeres and lack of telomerase activity.
CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that, compared with conventional radiotherapy, FLASH minimizes DNA damage in normal cells, spares lung progenitor cells from excessive damage, and reduces the risk of replicative senescence.