BACKGROUND: Exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation (IR) can lead to localized radiation injury of the skin and exposed cells suffer dsDNA breaks that may elicit cell death or stochastic changes. Little is known about the DNA damage response after high-dose exposure of the skin. Here, we investigate the cellular and DNA damage response in acutely irradiated minipig skin.<br /><br />METHODS AND FINDINGS: IR-induced DNA damage, repair and cellular survival were studied in 15 cm(2) of minipig skin exposed in vivo to ~50 Co-60 γ rays. Skin biopsies of control and 4 h up to 96 days post exposure were investigated for radiation-induced foci (RIF) formation using γ-H2AX, 53BP1, and active ATM-p immunofluorescence. High-dose IR induced massive γ-H2AX phosphorylation and high 53BP1 RIF numbers 4 h, 20 h after IR. As time progressed RIF numbers dropped to a low of <1% of keratinocytes at 28-70 days. The latter contained large RIFs that included ATM-p, indicating the accumulation of complex DNA damage. At 96 days most of the cells with RIFs had disappeared. The frequency of active-caspase-3-positive apoptotic cells was 17-fold increased 3 days after IR and remained >3-fold elevated at all subsequent time points. Replicating basal cells (Ki67+) were reduced 3 days post IR followed by increased proliferation and recovery of epidermal cellularity after 28 days.<br /><br />CONCLUSIONS: Acute high dose irradiation of minipig epidermis impaired stem cell replication and induced elevated apoptosis from 3 days onward. DNA repair cleared the high numbers of DBSs in skin cells, while RIFs that persisted in <1% cells marked complex and potentially lethal DNA damage up to several weeks after exposure. An elevated frequency of keratinocytes with persistent RIFs may thus serve as indicator of previous acute radiation exposure, which may be useful in the follow up of nuclear or radiological accident scenarios.
Ahmed, E. A., Agay, D., Schrock, G., Drouet, M., Meineke, V., & Scherthan, H. (2012). Persistent DNA damage after high dose in vivo Gamma exposure of Minipig skin. PLoS ONE, 7(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0039521